Moth Eyes

Navigating a demon-haunted world

Cold snaps curtail invasions

ResearchBlogging.orgClimate change not only causes shifts in the distributions of native species, but also allow invasive species to establish new populations. For example, many Caribbean species are taking advantages of warming temperatures, expanding polewards and invading into the south-eastern United States.

Green porcelian crabHaving established themselves, however, it’s not unknown for the invaders to come to pain. For example, in early 2010, the south-eastern United States experienced a particularly cold winter, which came to be known as “Snowmageddon”. After Snowmageddon, scientists found that the populations of several established invaders had crashed, in some cases been entirely wiped out.

Kaplan-Meyer survival curves for the experimental crabsCurious, Dr. João Canning-Clode and his colleagues collected a number of invasive green porcelain crabs (Petrolisthes armatus) to study. They had three groups: one control group would be held at what would be a fairly mild winter temperature at the collection site, one group would go through a cold snap similar to that experienced in January 2010, and one would experience a cold snap which was a couple of degrees even more extreme.

The results were striking. In the control group, 83% of the crabs survived the winter. In the Snowmageddon group, however, only 39% of the crabs survived – and the population that experienced an even colder snap was entirely wiped out. They also noted that cold temperatures caused the crabs to move around less – which, in the wild, would have probably caused them to be more vulnerable to predators and also make it harder for them to find their own food.

The researchers figure that the occasional cold snap may have the effect of stopping invasive species in their tracks – devastating, if not wiping out the populations. However, as the globe warms, extreme cold snaps have been getting less frequent, a trend which is expected to continue.

References

Canning-Clode, J., Fowler, A., Byers, J., Carlton, J., & Ruiz, G. (2011). ‘Caribbean Creep’ Chills Out: Climate Change and Marine Invasive Species PLoS ONE, 6 (12) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029657

DeGaetano, A., & Allen, R. (2002) Trends in Twentieth-Century Temperature Extremes across the United States. Journal of Climate, 15(22), 3188-3205.

Kodra, E., Steinhaeuser, K., & Ganguly, A. (2011) Persisting cold extremes under 21st-century warming scenarios. Geophysical Research Letters, 38(8).


January 13, 2012 at 1:00 am Comments (0)

Tapeworms like it hot

ResearchBlogging.orgBird tapeworms (Schistocephalus solidus) have three distinct life stages. First, they infect copepods (tiny crustaceans), such as Cyclops strenuus abyssorum. The copepods are eaten by sticklebacks – in this case, the three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus. The sticklebacks are then eaten a bird, in which they breed and produce eggs with which to infect the next generation of copepods.

In order to be infectious to a bird, the tapeworm larvae must grow to a size of at least 50mg. That being said, the bigger the better – larger parasites are far more fertile, producing many times more eggs – which are also larger. Larger parasites also make their hosts less able to breed and more likely to be eaten by a bird.

Parasites infecting organisms which do not control their own body temperatures (such as most fish) are more likely to be directly affected by climate change – a parasite infecting a warm-blooded mammal, for example, can rely on a temperature-controlled living space. To test what impact temperature would have on how infective the tapeworms were, Macnab and Barber (2011) kept two populations at different, static temperatures, within their normal temperature range – 15°C and 20°C respectively – and fed half of each population infected copepods (the others got non-infected copepods).

Temperature, they found, did not affect the likelihood that a fish eating an infected copepod would be infected – in both cases, about half of the exposed fish were infected. However, they found that the tapeworm larvae grew much faster in the warm-water group. 8 weeks in, every tapeworm larvae in the warm-water group had reached the 50mg size necessary to infect a bird – whereas none of the larvae infecting the cooler group had. In fact, in the warmer population, the average size of the tapeworms was twice the size they needed to infect a bird. They estimate that this difference would allow each parasite to produce at least an order of magnitude more eggs than in the 15°C group – almost 200,000 eggs each as compared to 12,000.

Infected fish preferred warm waterThey also showed that once infected, the fish with infective worms preferred warmer water. A different population of infected and non-infected sticklebacks were introduced to an aquarium with cooler (~15°C) and warmer (~21°C) compartments, with an intermediate-temperature (~18°C) linking chamber. The fish were then allowed to settle in the intermediate chamber and watched for three hours.

The non-infected fish, as well as those with parasites too small to infect a bird, tended to stay in the intermediate chamber. However, fish with large, infective parasites preferred warmer waters, with a thermal preference over 1°C warmer than the other groups.

Although such a pattern might be perhaps be explained by an attempt on the part of the sticklebacks to increase the effectiveness of their immune system, the authors suggest that the tendency of fish bearing larger-but-noninfective parasites towards lower temperatures is more likely motivated by the tapeworms. Larger parasites would have increased energy demands, increasing the likelihood that the host would starve – and the parasites with it. When the parasites are large enough to infect a bird, however, all bets are off – the priority is to get large and to get eaten.

Previous studies on these species, such as Barber et. al. (2004), have found that, once a stickleback was infected by a sufficiently large parasite, the parasite would impair the fish’s abilities to flee predators. Fish infected by such parasites were less likely to make any evasive behaviour, less likely to reach cover, less likely to perform “staggered dashes” to prevent a predator from anticipating where they would move next and more likely to try and “evade” predation by simply slowly swimming away.

Fish that prefer warmer waters are probably going to end up at the surface and at the edges of lakes – right where they’d be more vulnerable to bird attacks. There is also potential for a positive feedback relationship – fish infected by larger parasites prefer warmer waters in which the parasites grow faster and the fish are more likely to be consumed by birds. It seems that one beneficiary of a warming climate is the tapeworms.

References

Macnab, V., & Barber, I. (2011). Some (worms) like it hot: fish parasites grow faster in warmer water, and alter host thermal preferences Global Change Biology DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02595.x

Barber, I., Walker, P., & Svensson, P. (2004). Behavioural Responses to Simulated Avian Predation in Female Three Spined Sticklebacks: The Effect of Experimental Schistocephalus Solidus. Infections Behaviour, 141 (11), 1425-1440 DOI: 10.1163/1568539042948231 [PDF]

Other coverage

Some like it hot (if they’re riddled with parasites) – Not Exactly Rocket Science. Be sure to check out the comments, one of the authors has added information.

November 19, 2011 at 10:54 pm Comments (0)

Small no-take zones can help top predators

ResearchBlogging.orgIt’s difficult to protect large marine areas from fishing – a great deal of resources must be put into patrolling and enforcing such an area. However, new research suggests that small but well-targeted protection zones can have a significant effect all the way up the food chain.

African Penguin
African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus) are a vulnerable species of penguin restricted to South Africa. They are threatened by human activities, such as egg collection and oil spills. Their population dropped by about 90% in the 20th Century, and has continued to drop since. There are now fewer than 26,000 breeding pairs.

Top predators, such as these penguins, are important members of an ecosystem, and removing them from an environment can ripple throughout the web in drastic ways. Pichegru et. al. (2010) looks at the effects of a small no-take zone around a penguin colony has on the success of the colony, comparing it with another nearby colony which did not get a protected zone. They measured the duration and length of their hunting trips, diving time and dive depth to calculate the effort expended by the penguins in finding food.

Over just three months, the protection had a substantial effect on the penguins. Overall, the penguins in the protected zone spent less time hunting, travelled shorter distances and stayed closer to the colony, reducing their effort spent foraging effort by 25-30%. This meant that they were able to spend an extra 5 hours each day on their eggs. They also shifted their hunting patterns – before the protected zone was created, they foraged in it about a quarter of the time, but by the end of the study they were doing over 70% of their hunting inside the zone.

It is interesting that the penguins in the control colony lost weight and spent longer foraging during the study period. It’s possible that protecting the one area shifted more of human fishing into the area around the other island. However, the positive effects on the protected colony far outweighed the negatives on the control island, and in any case the fishing wouldn’t all be shifted to the other colony. This study also didn’t look at what effects the protection may have had on the breeding or survival of the penguins – which, of course, is an important question.

Study location

References

Pichegru, L., Gremillet, D., Crawford, R., & Ryan, P. (2010). Marine no-take zone rapidly benefits endangered penguin Biology Letters, 6 (4), 498-501 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0913

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July 25, 2010 at 10:13 pm Comments (2)