Implementing management actions to achieve environmental outcomes requires defining and quantifying ecological targets, but this is a complex challenge, and there are few examples of how to quantitatively set them in complex dynamic marine ecosystems. Here we develop a methodology to devise ‘desired state’ for tropical seagrasses in Cleveland Bay, northern Australia, in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Analysis of diverse species assemblages was used to define seagrass communities as indicators of the region’s ecological value. Multivariate regression trees assigned 8000 observations of species presence/absence and habitat characteristics from 2007 to 2017 into seven community types. Generalized Linear Models were used to assess annual variation in above-ground biomass of each seagrass community. Reference subsets of the data expressing high biomass and spatial extent were identified, and desired state was defined as the mean and 95% confidence intervals. This approach rests on the assumption that seagrass resilience and its ecosystem services are met when the diverse seagrass communities reach desired state. This method required a data set that spanned a range in seagrass conditions, but which may have been compromised by a history of pressures. Our method for defining desired state provides evidence-based targets that can be used within an adaptive management framework that prioritises and implements management actions.
Polyethylene (PE) is one of the most common types of plastic. Whilst an increasing share of post-consumer plastic waste from Europe is collected for recycling, 46% of separated PE waste is exported outside of the source country (including intra-EU trade). The fate of this exported European plastic is not well known. This study integrated data on PE waste flows in 2017 from UN Comtrade, an open repository providing detailed international trade data, with best available information on waste management in destination countries, to model the fate of PE exported for recycling from Europe (EU-28, Norway and Switzerland) into: recycled high-density PE (HDPE) and low-density PE (LDPE) resins, “landfill”, incineration and ocean debris. Data uncertainty was reflected in three scenarios representing high, low and average recovery efficiency factors in material recovery facilities and reprocessing facilities, and different ocean debris fate factors. The fates of exported PE were then linked back to the individual European countries of export. Our study estimated that 83,187 Mg (tonnes) (range: 32,115–180,558 Mg), or 3% (1–7%) of exported European PE in 2017 ended up in the ocean, indicating an important and hitherto undocumented pathway of plastic debris entering the oceans. The countries with the greatest percentage of exported PE ending up as recycled HDPE or LDPE were Luxembourg and Switzerland (90% recycled for all scenarios), whilst the country with the lowest share of exported PE being recycled was the United Kingdom (59–80%, average 69% recycled). The results showed strong, significant positive relationships between the percentage of PE exported out of Europe and the percentage of exports which potentially end up as ocean debris. Export countries may not be the ultimate countries of origin owing to complex intra-EU trade in PE waste. Although somewhat uncertain, these mass flows provide pertinent new evidence on the efficacy and risks of current plastic waste management practices pertinent to emerging regulations around trade in plastic waste, and to the development of a more circular economy.
Understanding the cultural contributions of ecosystems is essential for recognising how environmental policy impacts on human well-being. We developed an integrated cultural ecosystem services (CES) valuation approach involving non-monetary valuation through a eudaemonic well-being questionnaire and monetary valuation through hedonic pricing. This approach was applied to assess CES values on the west coast of Scotland. The impact of scenic area and marine protected area (MPA) designations on CES values and potential trade-offs with aquaculture, an increasingly important provisioning ecosystem service in the region, were investigated. Results confirmed a eudaemonic well-being value structure of seven factors: engagement and interaction with nature, place identity, therapeutic value, spiritual value, social bonds, memory/transformative value, and challenge and skill. Visibility of, but not proximity to aquaculture negatively influenced housing prices. In contrast, proximity to MPAs and visibility of scenic areas increased property values. All eudaemonic well-being value factors were positively and significantly associated with scenic areas and a subset of these with MPAs. The integration of the two methods can provide decision-makers with a more comprehensive picture of CES values, their relation to conservation policies and interactions and trade-offs with other activities and services.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a new social and academic reality to researchers worldwide. The field of marine science, our own topic of interest, has also been impacted in multiple ways, from cancelation of laboratory and field activities to postponement of onboard research. As graduate researchers, we have a time-sensitive academic path, and our current situation may constrain our academic future. At the same time, the pandemic demands revised strategies to deal with the ongoing difficulties and tackle similar future situations. In this perspective, we have gathered information on the challenges, solutions and opportunities for graduate researchers in the field of marine science by (1) discussing the relevant short-, long-term challenges caused by the pandemic, (2) providing feasible immediate and near-future solutions, (3) compiling opportunities (courses, scientific events, academic positions), and (4) creating a shared social media account to make the available information on new opportunities more accessible. With this, we hope to add to the efforts to advance the academic career of marine graduates during this harsh period.
Coastal and marine ecosystems characterized by foundation species, such as seagrass beds, coral reefs, salt marshes, oyster reefs, and mangrove forests, are rich in biodiversity and support a range of ecosystem services including coastal protection, food provisioning, water filtration, carbon sequestration, recreational opportunities, cultural value, among others. These ecosystems have experienced degradation and a net loss of total area in regions around the world due to a host of anthropogenic stressors, resulting in declines in the associated ecosystem services they provide. Because of the extensive degradation in many locations, increasing attention has turned to ecosystem restoration of these marine habitats. Restoration techniques for marine and coastal ecosystems are generally more expensive when compared to terrestrial ecosystems, highlighting the importance of carefully selecting locations that will provide the largest return on investment, not only for the probability and magnitude of restoration success, but also for ecosystem service outcomes. However, site selection and spatial planning for marine ecosystem restoration receive relatively little attention in the scientific literature, suggesting a need to better study how spatial planning tools could be incorporated into restoration practice. To the degree that site selection has been formally evaluated in the literature, the criteria have tended to focus more on environmental conditions beneficial for the restored habitat, and less on ecosystem service outcomes once the habitat is restored, which may vary considerably from site to site, or with more complex landscape dynamics and spatial patterns of connectivity. Here we (1) review recent (2015–2019) scientific peer-reviewed literature for several marine ecosystems (seagrass beds, salt marshes, and mangrove forests) to investigate how commonly site selection or spatial planning principles are applied or investigated in scholarly research about marine ecosystem restoration at different spatial scales, (2) provide a conceptual overview of the rationale for applying spatial planning principles to marine ecosystem restoration, and (3) highlight promising analytical approaches from the marine spatial planning and conservation planning literatures that could help improve restoration outcomes. We argue that strategic site selection and spatial planning for marine ecosystem restoration, particularly applied at larger spatial scales and accounting for ecosystem service outcomes, can help support more effective restoration.
With the increased uncertainty introduced through climate change and fishing pressure, having accurate estimates of fish biomass is essential for global ecosystem and economic health. Acoustic surveys are an efficient way to determine population size for pelagic species in the Northeast Atlantic (NEA), but acoustic population estimates still contain uncertainty and are difficult for some species. For example, Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) is one of the most valuable fisheries in the NEA and is not monitored acoustically, as mackerel lack the swim bladder that provides the strongest acoustic echo (target strength) at common assessment frequencies. For all pelagic species, and especially for mackerel, behavior is a source of variation in acoustic measurements and therefore in population estimates. Behavior is mediated by both extrinsic and intrinsic factors, such as the environment and the life history of the fish. In turn, behavior affects the density of the shoal and the tilt angle of the fish relative to the survey vessel, affecting their target strength, which affects the biomass estimate. Some fish may also undergo an anti-predator response to survey vessels, changing their behavior in response to the survey. Understanding these behaviors and incorporating them into acoustic stock assessment methods can improve the accuracy of population estimates. Individual-based models (IBM) of fish shoals provide a pathway for incorporating behavior into acoustic methods. IBMs have been used extensively to build theoretical models of fish shoals, but few have been successfully tested in lab or field conditions. As computational power and monitoring technology improve, modeling the collective behavior of pelagic fishes will be possible. Novel, interdisciplinary approaches to data collection and analysis will help translate theoretical IBMs to the fisheries science domain. Beyond acoustic stock assessments, this approach can be used to investigate knowledge gaps in the effects of fisheries-induced evolution and the potential for range shifts under climate change. Further work to synthesize existing models and incorporate field data will help determine how environmental, ecological, physiological, and anthropogenic factors, often affecting both behavior and acoustic surveying, are interconnected. Moving from theoretical models to practical applications will be a valuable tool in tackling the uncertainty that accompanies further fisheries exploitation and warming oceans.
Halophila stipulacea is a small tropical seagrass, native to the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean. It invaded the Mediterranean Sea 150 years ago as a Lessepsian migrant, but so far has remained in insulated, small populations across this basin. Surprisingly, in 2002 it was reported in the Caribbean Sea, where within less than two decades it spread to most of the Caribbean Island nations and reaching the South American continent. Unlike its invasion of Mediterranean, in the Caribbean H. stipulacea creates large, continuous populations in many areas. Reports from the Caribbean demonstrated the invasiveness of H. stipulacea by showing that it displaces local Caribbean seagrass species. The motivation for this review comes from the necessity to unify the existing knowledge on several aspects of this species in its native and invasive habitats, identify knowledge gaps and develop a critical strategy to understand its invasive capacity and implement an effective monitoring and conservation plan to mitigate its potential spread outside its native ranges. We systematically reviewed 164 studies related to H. stipulacea to create the “Halophila stipulacea database.” This allowed us to evaluate the current biological, ecological, physiological, biochemical, and molecular knowledge of H. stipulacea in its native and invasive ranges. Here we (i) discuss the possible environmental conditions and plant mechanisms involved in its invasiveness, (ii) assess the impact of H. stipulacea on native seagrasses and ecosystem functions in the invaded regions, (iii) predict the ability of this species to invade European and transoceanic coastal waters, (iv) identify knowledge gaps that should be addressed to better understand the biology and ecology of this species both in its native and non-native habitats, which would improve our ability to predict H. stipulacea's potential to expand into new areas in the future. Considering the predicted climate change scenarios and exponential human pressures on coastal areas, we stress the need for coordinated global monitoring and mapping efforts that will record changes in H. stipulacea and its associated communities over time, across its native, invasive and prospective distributional ranges. This will require the involvement of biologists, ecologists, economists, modelers, managers, and local stakeholders.
Half of coral species that occur on Caribbean reefs have also been reported living in mangroves. Given the vulnerability of corals living on reefs to environmental change, populations of the same species living in mangroves may prove critical to long-term survival of these coral species and the resilience of nearby reefs. To date, few studies have addressed the health and viability of mangrove coral populations, which is necessary if we are to understand their role in the broader meta-community. Here we present the first longitudinal study of the distribution, survival, growth, and recruitment of a mangrove coral population over multiple years. From 2014 to 2018, we fully censused a population of Porites divaricata along 640 meters of a mangrove-lined channel at Calabash Caye, Belize, and beginning in 2015, we tagged individual colonies for longitudinal monitoring. Year-to-year survivorship averaged 66.6% (±3.9 SE), and of the surviving colonies, on average, 72.7% (±2.5 SE) experienced net growth. The number of colonies, their spatial distribution, and population size-structure were essentially unchanged, except for an unusually high loss of larger colonies from 2016 to 2017, possibly the result of a local disturbance. However, each annual census revealed substantial turnover. For example, from 2016 to 2017, the loss or death of 72 colonies was offset by the addition of 89 recruits. Integral projection models (IPM) for two consecutive one-year intervals implicated recruitment and the persistence of large colonies as having the largest impacts on population growth. This 5-year study suggests that the P. divaricata population in the mangroves is viable, but may be routinely impacted by disturbances that cause the mortality of larger colonies. As many corals occur across a mosaic of habitat types, understanding the population dynamics and life-history variability of corals across habitats, and quantifying genetic exchange between habitats, will be critical to forecasting the fate of individual coral species and to maximizing the efficacy of coral restoration efforts.
Harmful algal bloom (HAB) species in the Chesapeake Bay can negatively impact fish, shellfish, and human health via the production of toxins and the degradation of water quality. Due to the deleterious effects of HAB species on economically and environmentally important resources, such as oyster reef systems, Bay area resource managers are seeking ways to monitor HABs and water quality at large spatial and fine temporal scales. The use of satellite ocean color imagery has proven to be a beneficial tool for resource management in other locations around the world where high-biomass, nearly monospecific HABs occur. However, remotely monitoring HABs in the Chesapeake Bay is complicated by the presence of multiple, often co-occurring, species and optically complex waters. Here we present a summary of common marine and estuarine HAB species found in the Chesapeake Bay, Alexandrium monilatum, Karlodinium veneficum, Margalefidinium polykrikoides, and Prorocentrum minimum, that have been detected from space using multispectral data products from the Ocean and Land Colour Imager (OLCI) sensor on the Sentinel-3 satellites and identified based on in situ phytoplankton data and ecological associations. We review how future hyperspectral instruments will improve discrimination of potentially harmful species from other phytoplankton communities and present a framework in which satellite data products could aid Chesapeake Bay resource managers with monitoring water quality and protecting shellfish resources.
While coral larval exchange among reef patches is crucial to the persistence of coral metapopulations, larval retention within patches is critical for local population maintenance. In isolated systems such as the Flower Garden Banks (FGB) of the northwest Gulf of Mexico (NW GoM), local retention is thought to play an important role in maintaining high levels of coral cover. Numerous mesoscale cyclonic and anticyclonic features (eddies) are known to spin off from the GoM’s Loop Current, many of which pass over the FGB. We developed a biophysical model of coral larval dispersal (2004–2018) to investigate the extent to which eddies may facilitate coral larval exchange between and within the east and west FGB. Virtual larvae of the broadcast spawning Orbicella faveolata and the brooding Porites astreoides were released and tracked with species-specific reproductive and larval behaviors to investigate differences in retention and connectivity in corals with contrasting life histories. Eddies were detected and tracked using sea surface altimetry and compared with larval trajectories to assess the retentive characteristics of these features. Results suggest consistently high, but species-specific, levels of local retention and cross-bank connectivity in both coral species. High local retention is possible early in the dispersal of P. astreoides, and both species routinely experience retention due to recirculation in eddy features as late as 30 days after planulation or spawning. Eddies passing over the FGB were associated with pulses of between- and within-bank retention, indicating that larvae are capable of dispersing from and returning to coral reefs in the NW GoM. Although opportunities for retention are inherently ephemeral and stochastic due to the nature of Loop Current Eddy (LCE) shedding, eddy propagation should serve as a reliable reseeding mechanism for FGB coral populations. In particular, peaks in late summer eddy propagation correspond with mass coral spawning and may enhance larval retention. These findings support the assertions that healthy FGB reefs may be largely self-sustaining, and that persistent, self-sustaining populations at the FGB may supply downstream reefs with larvae and behave as a remote climate change refugium.
Offshore wind farms (OWFs) in the North Sea are proliferating, causing alterations in local ecosystems by adding artificial hard substrates into naturally soft-bottom areas. These substrates are densely colonized by fouling organisms, which may compete for the available resources. While the distribution of some species is restricted to specific parts of the turbine, others occur across depth zones and may therefore face different competitive environments. Here we investigate the trophic niches of seven invertebrate species: three sessile (Diadumene cincta, Metridium senile, and Mytilus edulis), one hemi-sessile (Jassa herdmani) and three mobile species (Ophiothrix fragilis, Necora puber, and Pisidia longicornis) that occur in multiple depth zones. We hypothesized that these species would be trophic generalists, exhibiting trophic plasticity by selecting different resources in different depth zones, to cope with the different competitive environments in which they occur. We analyzed δ13C and δ15N of these species and their potential resources across depth zones. Our results show that most of these invertebrates are indeed trophic generalists which display substantial trophic plasticity, selecting different resources in different zones. Degree of trophic plasticity was not related to mobility of the species. There are two possible explanations for these dietary changes with depth: either consumers switch diet to avoid competition with other (dominant) species, or they benefit from the consumption of a non-limiting resource. Only Diadumene cincta was a trophic specialist that consumed suspended particulate organic matter (SPOM) independent of its zone of occurrence. Altogether, trophic plasticity appears an important mechanism for the co-existence of invertebrate species along the depth gradient of an offshore wind turbine.
Scientific research and expertise play a critical role in informing legislative decisions and guiding effective policy. However, significant communication gaps persist between scientists and policymakers. While interest in science policy among researchers has substantially increased in recent decades, traditional academic and research careers rarely provide formal training or exposure to the inner workings of government, public policy, or communicating scientific findings to broad audiences. Here, we offer 10 practical steps for scientists who want to engage in science policy efforts, with a focus on state and federal policy in the United States. We first include a primer to government structure and tailoring science communication for a policymaker audience. We then provide action-oriented steps that focus on arranging and successfully navigating meetings with government officials. Finally, we suggest structural steps in academia that would provide resources and support for students, researchers, and faculty who are interested in policy. We offer our perspective, as early-career marine scientists who have participated in policy discussions at state and federal levels and through the American Geophysical Union’s “Voices for Science” program. This guide offers potential pathways for engagement in science policy, and provides researchers with tangible actions to effectively reach stakeholders. Lastly, we hope to activate further conversations on best practices for policy engagement, particularly for researchers interested in careers at the science policy interface.
Elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) levels can alter ecologically important behaviors in a range of marine invertebrate taxa; however, a clear mechanistic understanding of these behavioral changes is lacking. The majority of mechanistic research on the behavioral effects of elevated CO2 has been done in fish, focusing on disrupted functioning of the GABAA receptor (a ligand-gated ion channel, LGIC). Yet, elevated CO2 could induce behavioral alterations through a range of mechanisms that disturb different components of the neurobiological pathway that produces behavior, including disrupted sensation, altered behavioral choices and disturbed LGIC-mediated neurotransmission. Here, we review the potential mechanisms by which elevated CO2 may affect marine invertebrate behaviors. Marine invertebrate acid–base physiology and pharmacology is discussed in relation to altered GABAA receptor functioning. Alternative mechanisms for behavioral change at elevated CO2 are considered and important topics for future research have been identified. A mechanistic understanding will be important to determine why there is variability in elevated CO2-induced behavioral alterations across marine invertebrate taxa, why some, but not other, behaviors are affected within a species and to identify which marine invertebrates will be most vulnerable to rising CO2 levels.
Predicting the distribution of oil, buoyant plastics, flotsam, and marine organisms near the ocean surface remains a fundamental problem of practical importance. This manuscript synthesizes progress in this area during the time of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI; 2012–2019), with an emphasis on the accumulation of floating material into highly concentrated streaks on horizontal scales of meters to 10's of kilometers. Prior to the GoMRI period, two new paradigms emerged: the importance of submesoscale frontal dynamics on the larger scales and of surface-wave-driven Langmuir turbulence on the smaller scales, with a broad transition occurring near 100 m. Rapid progress resulted from the combination of high resolution numerical modeling tools, mostly developed before GoMRI, and new observational techniques developed during GoMRI. Massive deployments of inexpensive and biodegradable satellite-tracked surface drifters combined with aerial tracking of oil surrogates (drift cards) enabled simultaneous observations of surface ocean velocities and dispersion over scales of 10 m to 10's of kilometers. Surface current maps produced by ship-mounted radar and aerial optical remote sensing systems, combined with traditional oceanographic tools, enabled a set of coordinated measurement programs that supported and expanded the new paradigms. Submesoscale fronts caused floating material to both accumulate at fronts and to disperse as they evolved, leading to higher local concentrations, but increased overall dispersion. Analyses confirmed the distinct submesoscale dynamics of this process and the complexity of the resulting fields. Existing tools could be developed into predictive models of submesoscale statistics, but prediction of individual submesoscale features will likely remain limited by data. Away from fronts, measured rates of accumulation of material in and beneath surface windrows was found to be consistent with Langmuir turbulence, but highly dependent on the rise rate of the material and thus, for oil, on the droplet size. Models of this process were developed and tested and could be further developed into predictive tools. Both the submesoscale and Langmuir processes are sensitive to coupling with surface waves and air-sea flux processes. This sensitivity is a promising area for future studies.
There is a disconnect between ambition and achievement of the UN Agenda 2030 and associated Sustainable Development Goals that is especially apparent when it comes to ocean and coastal health. While scientific knowledge is critical to confront and resolve contradictions that reproduce unsustainable practices at the coast and to spark global societal change toward sustainability, it is not enough in itself to catalyze large scale behavioral change. People learn, understand and generate knowledge in different ways according to their experiences, perspectives, and culture, amongst others, which shape responses and willingness to alter behavior. Historically, there has been a strong connection between art and science, both of which share a common goal to understand and describe the world around us as well as provide avenues for communication and enquiry. This connection provides a clear avenue for engaging multiple audiences at once, evoking emotion and intuition to trigger stronger motivations for change. There is an urgent need to rupture the engrained status quo of disciplinary divisions across academia and society to generate transdisciplinary approaches to global environmental challenges. This paper describes the evolution of an art-science collaboration (Catching a Wave) designed to galvanize change in the Anthropocene era by creating discourse drivers for transformations that are more centered on society rather than the more traditional science-policy-practice nexus.
Small-scale fisheries are an important source of food, income and cultural identity to millions of people worldwide. Despite many fisher people observing declining catches, a lack of data remains a barrier to understanding the status of small-scale fisheries and their effective management in many places. Where data exist, complex analyses and stock assessments are often beyond the capacity and budgets of local managers. Working with small-scale fisheries in western Madagascar, we analyze landings data to provide a description of the fishery and evaluate the top twenty most commonly caught species for evidence of overfishing. Using length composition data, we use Froese’s three simple rules: Let them spawn, let them grow and let the mega-spawners live, as well as Cope and Punt’s decision tree to infer if spawning biomass is less than target reference points. We then use length-based parameters to calculate fishing mortality and compare with published estimates of natural mortality to assess overfishing (F > M). Over 17,000 fishing trips were registered over a 2-year period (2010–2012), landing just short of 2 million individual fish. Length data were recorded for a sample of over 120,000 individuals. Fish comprised 95% of landings, with the remainder comprised of other groups including crustaceans (mostly shrimp, crab, and lobster), cephalopods, and holothurians. We provide some of the first evidence that fish species caught in the small-scale fisheries of the Menabe region of Madagascar are experiencing overfishing. The most notable result is that for 13 of the 20 most common species, fishing mortality exceeds natural mortality. Many species had a large proportion of individuals (in some cases 100%) being caught before they reached maturity. Very few species were fished at their optimal size, and there were low numbers of large individuals (mega-spawners) in catches. Overfishing in western Madagascar presents a serious threat to the income, food security and well-being of some of the most vulnerable people in the world. The results of this paper support the call for improved management. However, management approaches should take account of overlapping fisheries and be inclusive to ensure the impacts of management do not undermine the rights of small-scale fishers. Further data are needed to better understand the trends and to improve management but should not hinder pragmatic action.
Marine debris is a growing problem in the world’s deep ocean. The naturally slow biological and chemical processes operating at depth, coupled with the types of materials that are used commercially, suggest that debris is likely to persist in the deep ocean for long periods of time, ranging from hundreds to thousands of years. However, the realized scale of marine debris accumulation in the deep ocean is unknown due to the logistical, technological, and financial constraints related to deep-ocean exploration. Coordinated deep-water exploration from 2015 to 2017 enabled new insights into the status of deep-sea marine debris throughout the central and western Pacific Basin via ROV expeditions conducted onboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer and RV Falkor. These expeditions included sites in United States protected areas and monuments, other Exclusive Economic Zones, international protected areas, and areas beyond national jurisdiction. Metal, glass, plastic, rubber, cloth, fishing gear, and other marine debris were encountered during 17.5% of the 188 dives from 150 to 6,000 m depth. Correlations were observed between deep-sea debris densities and depth, geological features, and distance from human-settled land. The highest densities occurred off American Samoa and the main Hawaiian Islands. Debris, mostly consisting of fishing gear and plastic, were also observed in most of the large-scale marine protected areas, adding to the growing body of evidence that even deep, remote areas of the ocean are not immune from human impacts. Interactions with and impacts on biological communities were noted, though further study is required to understand the full extent of these impacts. We also discuss potential sources and long-term implications of this debris.
Globally, the exploitation of marine mammals has shifted from hunting to viewing over the last few decades. While refraining from actively killing animals may have a positive effect on marine mammal populations, whale and dolphin watching can induce changes such as displacement from preferred habitat and disruption of foraging that may also have severe fitness costs. Under some circumstances, this non-lethal disturbance may affect populations in a manner similar to directed mortality. Here, we focus on inshore dolphin populations that are known to show short-term behavioral responses to boat approaches. Long-term fitness effects have only been clearly identified in a small number of these populations, and all share certain characteristics, i.e., closed, small and food-limited. This raises the question of importance of context when considering the long-term effects of disturbance, since many dolphin populations may be open, large, and/or free from resource restriction. We explored the effect of disturbance based on the characteristics of populations using the population consequences of disturbance (PCoD) framework. PCoD was developed to link short-term changes in individual behavior and physiology to presumed long-term effects on population dynamics. To ensure our scenarios were biologically plausible, they reflected the ecological context of four well-studied populations of dolphins, Doubtful Sound, New Zealand, Sarasota Bay, United States, Durban Bay, South Africa, and Jervis Bay, Australia, in terms of their size, closure, and food resources. We found that the characteristics of the populations being disturbed are important with regards to the level of disturbance that could be tolerated. Closed populations were most sensitive, while large, open populations with no food limitation appeared to be able to withstand a higher probability of disturbance. This implies that population characteristics should be accounted for when determining the suitability of whale and dolphin watching operations in a given area.
Multiple stressors caused by human-induced disturbances can affect the foraging opportunities of cetaceans, potentially depleting their energy stores, and ultimately impact survival and reproductive success. Currently, blubber thickness and lipid composition is used as measure of health and nutritional status in cetaceans. This assumes that blubber functions in the same manner as adipose tissue in terrestrial mammals. However, cetaceans have evolved to have thickened blubber which serves as thermoregulation, buoyancy and energy store. In addition, blubber is composed of several layers and regions that have different physiological functions. We currently lack a clear understanding of how blubber biology contributes to maintaining energy status in cetaceans and several studies show blubber thickness, and composition in some body regions, is an inappropriate measure of health. Before new markers of health can be identified, we need to understand how environmental stressors influence blubber biology and particularly unravel its complex signaling roles with other organs. Currently, we do not understand how changes in energy status drive changes in health in cetaceans, and eventually population dynamics. This review synthesizes recent developments in cetacean blubber biology to propose potential directions to develop novel cetacean health markers.
Cold-seep benthic communities in the Arctic exist at the nexus of two extreme environments; one reflecting the harsh physical extremes of the Arctic environment and another reflecting the chemical extremes and strong environmental gradients associated with seafloor seepage of methane and toxic sulfide-enriched sediments. Recent ecological investigations of cold seeps at numerous locations on the margins of the Arctic Ocean basin reveal that seabed seepage of reduced gas and fluids strongly influence benthic communities and associated marine ecosystems. These Arctic seep communities are mostly different from both conventional Arctic benthic communities as well as cold-seep systems elsewhere in the world. They are characterized by a lack of large specialized chemo-obligate polychetes and mollusks often seen at non-Arctic seeps, but, nonetheless, have substantially higher benthic abundance and biomass compared to adjacent Arctic areas lacking seeps. Arctic seep communities are dominated by expansive tufts or meadows of siboglinid polychetes, which can reach densities up to >3 × 105 ind.m–2. The enhanced autochthonous chemosynthetic production, combined with reef-like structures from methane-derived authigenic carbonates, provides a rich and complex local habitat that results in aggregations of non-seep specialized fauna from multiple trophic levels, including several commercial species. Cold seeps are far more widespread in the Arctic than thought even a few years ago. They exhibit in situ benthic chemosynthetic production cycles that operate on different spatial and temporal cycles than the sunlight-driven counterpart of photosynthetic production in the ocean’s surface. These systems can act as a spatio-temporal bridge for benthic communities and associated ecosystems that may otherwise suffer from a lack of consistency in food quality from the surface ocean during seasons of low production. As climate change impacts accelerate in Arctic marginal seas, photosynthetic primary production cycles are being modified, including in terms of changes in the timing, magnitude, and quality of photosynthetic carbon, whose delivery to the seabed fuels benthic communities. Furthermore, an increased northward expansion of species is expected as a consequence of warming seas. This may have implications for dispersal and evolution of both chemosymbiotic species as well as for background taxa in the entire realm of the Arctic Ocean basin and fringing seas.