Hydrostatic lung compression in diving marine mammals, with collapsing alveoli blocking gas exchange at depth, has been the main theoretical basis for limiting N2 uptake and avoiding gas emboli (GE) as they ascend. However, studies of beached and bycaught cetaceans and sea turtles imply that air-breathing marine vertebrates may, under unusual circumstances, develop GE that result in decompression sickness (DCS) symptoms. Theoretical modelling of tissue and blood gas dynamics of breath-hold divers suggests that changes in perfusion and blood flow distribution may also play a significant role. The results from the modelling work suggest that our current understanding of diving physiology in many species is poor, as the models predict blood and tissue N2 levels that would result in severe DCS symptoms (chokes, paralysis and death) in a large fraction of natural dive profiles. In this review, we combine published results from marine mammals and turtles to propose alternative mechanisms for how marine vertebrates control gas exchange in the lung, through management of the pulmonary distribution of alveolar ventilation () and cardiac output/lung perfusion (), varying the level of in different regions of the lung. Man-made disturbances, causing stress, could alter the mismatch level in the lung, resulting in an abnormally elevated uptake of N2, increasing the risk for GE. Our hypothesis provides avenues for new areas of research, offers an explanation for how sonar exposure may alter physiology causing GE and provides a new mechanism for how air-breathing marine vertebrates usually avoid the diving-related problems observed in human divers.
Total mercury (Hg) and stable isotopes of nitrogen and carbon were determined in the muscle tissue of 50 species of fishes and invertebrates collected at two sites along the Florida reef tract from April 2012 to December 2013. The objective was to test the hypothesis that high biodiversity in coral reefs leading to complex food webs with increased lateral links reduces biomagnification. However, Hg levels ranged as high 6.84 mg/kg. Interestingly, it was not highest in great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda), considered the top predatory fish, but instead in small porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus), possibly due to their role as a cleaner fish. Trophic magnification slopes (TMS; from regression of log Hg on δ15N) as a measure of biomagnification did not differ between sites, ranging from 0.155 ± 0.04 (± 95% CI) to 0.201 ± 0.07. These TMS also were within the ranges of slopes reported for food webs in other ecosystems; thus, biomagnification of Hg in muscle tissue was not reduced in the system.
As jellyfish interactions with humans increase in coastal waters, there is an urgent need to provide science-based management strategies to mitigate the negative socioeconomic impacts of jellyfish blooms and to exploit potential benefits of their ecosystem services. This Theme Section presents the latest advances in jellyfish research, from new sampling methods to food-web and life-cycle studies. The methodological advances presented will help to overcome difficulties in sampling due to the fluctuations in abundance and irregular distributions of jellyfish. The ecology of gelatinous species in marine food webs is explored through studying interactions between jellyfish and fish. Aspects of jellyfish life cycles, which often include both attached polyps and swimming medusae, are elucidated by locating the polyps and determining the factors that contribute to their success. Knowledge on all of these factors will be essential to understand the bloom dynamics of specific jellyfish groups.
With its never-ending blue color, the underwater environment often seems monotonic and featureless. However, to an animal with polarization-sensitive vision, it is anything but bland. The rich repertoire of underwater polarization patterns—a consequence of light’s air-to-water transmission and in-water scattering—can be exploited both as a compass and for geolocalization purposes. We demonstrate that, by using a bioinspired polarization-sensitive imager, we can determine the geolocation of an observer based on radial underwater polarization patterns. Our experimental data, recorded at various locations around the world, at different depths and times of day, indicate that the average accuracy of our geolocalization is 61 km, or 6 m of error for every 1 km traveled. This proof-of-concept study of our bioinspired technique opens new possibilities in long-distance underwater navigation and suggests additional mechanisms by which marine animals with polarization-sensitive vision might perform both local and long-distance navigation.
The use of limbs for foraging is documented in both marine and terrestrial tetrapods. These behaviors were once believed to be less likely in marine tetrapods due to the physical constraints of body plans adapted to locomotion in a fluid environment. Despite these obstacles, ten distinct types of limb-use while foraging have been previously reported in nine marine tetrapod families. Here, we expand the types of limb-use documented in marine turtles and put it in context with the diversity of marine tetrapods currently known to use limbs for foraging. Additionally, we suggest that such behaviors could have occurred in ancestral turtles, and thus, possibly extend the evolutionary timeline of limb-use behavior in marine tetrapods back approximately 70 million years. Through direct observation in situ and crowd-sourcing, we document the range of behaviors across habitats and prey types, suggesting its widespread occurrence. We argue the presence of these behaviors among marine tetrapods may be limited by limb mobility and evolutionary history, rather than foraging ecology or social learning. These behaviors may also be remnant of ancestral forelimb-use that have been maintained due to a semi-aquatic life history.
Disease outbreaks can have substantial impacts on wild populations, but the often patchy or anecdotal evidence of these impacts impedes our ability to understand outbreak dynamics. Recently however, a severe disease outbreak occurred in a group of very well-studied organisms–sea stars along the west coast of North America. We analyzed nearly two decades of data from a coordinated monitoring effort at 88 sites ranging from southern British Columbia to San Diego, California along with 2 sites near Sitka, Alaska to better understand the effects of sea star wasting disease (SSWD) on the keystone intertidal predator, Pisaster ochraceus. Quantitative surveys revealed unprecedented declines of P. ochraceus in 2014 and 2015 across nearly the entire geographic range of the species. The intensity of the impact of SSWD was not uniform across the affected area, with proportionally greater population declines in the southern regions relative to the north. The degree of population decline was unrelated to pre-outbreak P. ochraceus density, although these factors have been linked in other well-documented disease events. While elevated seawater temperatures were not broadly linked to the initial emergence of SSWD, anomalously high seawater temperatures in 2014 and 2015 might have exacerbated the disease’s impact. Both before and after the onset of the SSWD outbreak, we documented higher recruitment of P. ochraceus in the north than in the south, and while some juveniles are surviving (as evidenced by transition of recruitment pulses to larger size classes), post-SSWD survivorship is lower than during pre-SSWD periods. In hindsight, our data suggest that the SSWD event defied prediction based on two factors found to be important in other marine disease events, sea water temperature and population density, and illustrate the importance of surveillance of natural populations as one element of an integrated approach to marine disease ecology. Low levels of SSWD-symptomatic sea stars are still present throughout the impacted range, thus the outlook for population recovery is uncertain.
Foundation species define the ecosystems they live in, but ecologists have often characterized dominant plants as foundational without supporting evidence. Giant kelp has long been considered a marine foundation species due to its complex structure and high productivity; however, there is little quantitative evidence to evaluate this. Here, we apply structural equation modelling to a 15-year time series of reef community data to evaluate how giant kelp affects the reef community. Although species richness was positively associated with giant kelp biomass, most direct paths did not involve giant kelp. Instead, the foundational qualities of giant kelp were driven mostly by indirect effects attributed to its dominant physical structure and associated engineering influence on the ecosystem, rather than by its use as food by invertebrates and fishes. Giant kelp structure has indirect effects because it shades out understorey algae that compete with sessile invertebrates. When released from competition, sessile species in turn increase the diversity of mobile predators. Sea urchin grazing effects could have been misinterpreted as kelp effects, because sea urchins can overgraze giant kelp, understorey algae and sessile invertebrates alike. Our results confirm the high diversity and biomass associated with kelp forests, but highlight how species interactions and habitat attributes can be misconstrued as direct consequences of a foundation species like giant kelp.
Environmental DNA (eDNA) can be defined as the DNA pool recovered from an environmental sample that includes both extracellular and intracellular DNA. There has been a significant increase in the number of recent studies that have demonstrated the possibility to detect macroorganisms using eDNA. Despite the enormous potential of eDNA to serve as a biomonitoring and conservation tool in aquatic systems, there remain some important limitations concerning its application. One significant factor is the variable persistence of eDNA over natural environmental gradients, which imposes a critical constraint on the temporal and spatial scales of species detection. In the present study, a radiotracer bioassay approach was used to quantify the kinetic parameters of dissolved eDNA (d-eDNA), a component of extracellular DNA, over an annual cycle in the coastal Northwest Mediterranean. Significant seasonal variability in the biological uptake and turnover of d-eDNA was observed, the latter ranging from several hours to over one month. Maximum uptake rates of d-eDNA occurred in summer during a period of intense phosphate limitation (turnover <5 hrs). Corresponding increases in bacterial production and uptake of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) demonstrated the microbial utilization of d-eDNA as an organic phosphorus substrate. Higher temperatures during summer may amplify this effect through a general enhancement of microbial metabolism. A partial least squares regression (PLSR) model was able to reproduce the seasonal cycle in d-eDNA persistence and explained 60% of the variance in the observations. Rapid phosphate turnover and low concentrations of bioavailable phosphate, both indicative of phosphate limitation, were the most important parameters in the model. Abiotic factors such as pH, salinity and oxygen exerted minimal influence. The present study demonstrates significant seasonal variability in the persistence of d-eDNA in a natural marine environment that can be linked to the metabolic response of microbial communities to nutrient limitation. Future studies should consider the effect of natural environmental gradients on the seasonal persistence of eDNA, which will be of particular relevance for time-series biomonitoring programs.
The Canterbury earthquakes resulted in numerous changes to the waterways of Ōtautahi Christchurch. These included bank destabilisation, liquefaction effects, changes in bed levels, and associated effects on flow regimes and inundation levels. This study set out to determine if these effects had altered the location and pattern of sites utilised by inanga (Galaxias maculatus) for spawning, which are typically restricted to very specific locations in upper estuarine areas.
Extensive surveys were carried out in the Heathcote/Ōpāwaho and Avon/Ōtākaro catchments over the four peak months of the 2015 spawning season. New spawning sites were found in both rivers and analysis against pre-earthquake records identified that other significant changes have occurred.
Major changes include the finding of many new spawning sites in the Heathcote/Ōpāwaho catchment. Sites now occur up to 1.5km further downstream than the previously reported limit and include the first records of spawning below the Woolston Cut. Spawning sites in the Avon/Ōtākaro catchment also occur in new locations. In the mainstem, sites now occur both upstream and downstream of all previously reported locations. A concentrated area of spawning was identified in Lake Kate Sheppard at a distinctly different location versus pre-quake records, and no spawning was found on the western shores. Spawning was also recorded for the first time in Anzac Creek, a nearby waterway connected to Lake Kate Sheppard via a series of culverts. Overall the results indicate that spawning is taking place in different locations from the pre-quake pattern. Although egg survival was not measured in this study, sites in new locations may be vulnerable to current or future land-use activities that are incompatible with spawning success. Consequently, there are considerable management implications associated with this spatial shift, primarily relating to riparian management. In particular, there is a need to control threats to spawning sites and achieve protection for the areas involved. This is required under the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 and is a prominent objective in a range of other policies and plans.mainstem, sites now occur both upstream and downstream of all previously reported locations. A concentrated area of spawning was identified in Lake Kate Sheppard at a distinctly different location versus pre-quake records, and no spawning was found on the western shores. Spawning was also recorded for the first time in Anzac Creek, a nearby waterway connected to Lake Kate Sheppard via a series of culverts.
Overall the results indicate that spawning is taking place in different locations from the pre-quake pattern. Although egg survival was not measured in this study, sites in new locations may be vulnerable to current or future land-use activities that are incompatible with spawning success. Consequently, there are considerable management implications associated with this spatial shift, primarily relating to riparian management. In particular, there is a need to control threats to spawning sites and achieve protection for the areas involved. This is required under the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 and is a prominent objective in a range of other policies and plans.
Size generally dictates metabolic requirements, trophic level, and consequently, ecosystem structure, where inefficient energy transfer leads to bottom-heavy ecosystem structure and biomass decreases as individual size (or trophic level) increases. However, many animals deviate from simple size-based predictions by either adopting generalist predatory behavior, or feeding lower in the trophic web than predicted from their size. Here we show that generalist predatory behavior and lower trophic feeding at large body size increase overall biomass and shift ecosystems from a bottom-heavy pyramid to a top-heavy hourglass shape, with the most biomass accounted for by the largest animals. These effects could be especially dramatic in the ocean, where primary producers are the smallest components of the ecosystem. This approach makes it possible to explore and predict, in the past and in the future, the structure of ocean ecosystems without biomass extraction and other impacts.