Concept: Aquatic ecosystem
Imidacloprid is one of the most widely used insecticides in the world. Its concentration in surface water exceeds the water quality norms in many parts of the Netherlands. Several studies have demonstrated harmful effects of this neonicotinoid to a wide range of non-target species. Therefore we expected that surface water pollution with imidacloprid would negatively impact aquatic ecosystems. Availability of extensive monitoring data on the abundance of aquatic macro-invertebrate species, and on imidacloprid concentrations in surface water in the Netherlands enabled us to test this hypothesis. Our regression analysis showed a significant negative relationship (P<0.001) between macro-invertebrate abundance and imidacloprid concentration for all species pooled. A significant negative relationship was also found for the orders Amphipoda, Basommatophora, Diptera, Ephemeroptera and Isopoda, and for several species separately. The order Odonata had a negative relationship very close to the significance threshold of 0.05 (P = 0.051). However, in accordance with previous research, a positive relationship was found for the order Actinedida. We used the monitoring field data to test whether the existing three water quality norms for imidacloprid in the Netherlands are protective in real conditions. Our data show that macrofauna abundance drops sharply between 13 and 67 ng l(-1). For aquatic ecosystem protection, two of the norms are not protective at all while the strictest norm of 13 ng l(-1) (MTR) seems somewhat protective. In addition to the existing experimental evidence on the negative effects of imidacloprid on invertebrate life, our study, based on data from large-scale field monitoring during multiple years, shows that serious concern about the far-reaching consequences of the abundant use of imidacloprid for aquatic ecosystems is justified.
Apex predators play a key role in ecosystem stability across environments but their numbers in general are decreasing. By contrast, European catfish (Silurus glanis), the European freshwater apex predator, is on the increase. However, studies concerning apex predators in freshwaters are scarce in comparison to those in terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The present study combines stomach content and stable isotope analyses with diet preferences of catfish to reveal its impact on the ecosystem since stocking. Catfish niche width is extremely wide in comparison to the typical model predator, Northern pike (Esox lucius). Catfish and pike have different individual dietary specialization that results in different functional roles in coupling or compartmentalizing distinct food webs. The role of both species in the ecosystem is irreplaceable due to multiple predator effects. The impact of catfish is apparent across the entire aquatic ecosystem, but herbivores are the most affected ecological group. The key feature of catfish, and probably a common feature of apex predators in general, is utilization of several dietary strategies by individuals within a population: long-term generalism or specialization and also short-term specialization. Catfish, similar to other large-bodied apex predators, have two typical features: enormous generalism and adaptability to new prey sources.
Climate change is expected to modify ecological responses in the ocean, with the potential for important effects on the ecosystem services provided to humankind. Here we address the question of how rapidly multiple drivers of marine ecosystem change develop in the future ocean. By analysing an ensemble of models we find that, within the next 15 years, the climate change-driven trends in multiple ecosystem drivers emerge from the background of natural variability in 55% of the ocean and propagate rapidly to encompass 86% of the ocean by 2050 under a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario. However, we also demonstrate that the exposure of marine ecosystems to climate change-induced stress can be drastically reduced via climate mitigation measures; with mitigation, the proportion of ocean susceptible to multiple drivers within the next 15 years is reduced to 34%. Mitigation slows the pace at which multiple drivers emerge, allowing an additional 20 years for adaptation in marine ecological and socio-economic systems alike.
The input of mercury (Hg) to ecosystems is estimated to have increased two- to fivefold during the industrial era, and Hg accumulates in aquatic biota as neurotoxic methylmercury (MeHg). Escalating anthropogenic land use and climate change are expected to alter the input rates of terrestrial natural organic matter (NOM) and nutrients to aquatic ecosystems. For example, climate change has been projected to induce 10 to 50% runoff increases for large coastal regions globally. A major knowledge gap is the potential effects on MeHg exposure to biota following these ecosystem changes. We monitored the fate of five enriched Hg isotope tracers added to mesocosm scale estuarine model ecosystems subjected to varying loading rates of nutrients and terrestrial NOM. We demonstrate that increased terrestrial NOM input to the pelagic zone can enhance the MeHg bioaccumulation factor in zooplankton by a factor of 2 to 7 by inducing a shift in the pelagic food web from autotrophic to heterotrophic. The terrestrial NOM input also enhanced the retention of MeHg in the water column by up to a factor of 2, resulting in further increased MeHg exposure to pelagic biota. Using mercury mass balance calculations, we predict that MeHg concentration in zooplankton can increase by a factor of 3 to 6 in coastal areas following scenarios with 15 to 30% increased terrestrial runoff. The results demonstrate the importance of incorporating the impact of climate-induced changes in food web structure on MeHg bioaccumulation in future biogeochemical cycling models and risk assessments of Hg.
Phosphorus losses from land to water will be impacted by climate change and land management for food production, with detrimental impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Here we use a unique combination of methods to evaluate the impact of projected climate change on future phosphorus transfers, and to assess what scale of agricultural change would be needed to mitigate these transfers. We combine novel high-frequency phosphorus flux data from three representative catchments across the UK, a new high-spatial resolution climate model, uncertainty estimates from an ensemble of future climate simulations, two phosphorus transfer models of contrasting complexity and a simplified representation of the potential intensification of agriculture based on expert elicitation from land managers. We show that the effect of climate change on average winter phosphorus loads (predicted increase up to 30% by 2050s) will be limited only by large-scale agricultural changes (e.g., 20-80% reduction in phosphorus inputs).The impact of climate change on phosphorus (P) loss from land to water is unclear. Here, the authors use P flux data, climate simulations and P transfer models to show that only large scale agricultural change will limit the effect of climate change on average winter P loads in three catchments across the UK.
Global warming has increased the frequency of extreme climate events, yet responses of biological and human communities are poorly understood, particularly for aquatic ecosystems and fisheries. Retrospective analysis of known outcomes may provide insights into the nature of adaptations and trajectory of subsequent conditions. We consider the 1815 eruption of the Indonesian volcano Tambora and its impact on Gulf of Maine (GoM) coastal and riparian fisheries in 1816. Applying complex adaptive systems theory with historical methods, we analyzed fish export data and contemporary climate records to disclose human and piscine responses to Tambora’s extreme weather at different spatial and temporal scales while also considering sociopolitical influences. Results identified a tipping point in GoM fisheries induced by concatenating social and biological responses to extreme weather. Abnormal daily temperatures selectively affected targeted fish species-alewives, shad, herring, and mackerel-according to their migration and spawning phenologies and temperature tolerances. First to arrive, alewives suffered the worst. Crop failure and incipient famine intensified fishing pressure, especially in heavily settled regions where dams already compromised watersheds. Insufficient alewife runs led fishers to target mackerel, the next species appearing in abundance along the coast; thus, 1816 became the “mackerel year.” Critically, the shift from riparian to marine fisheries persisted and expanded after temperatures moderated and alewives recovered. We conclude that contingent human adaptations to extraordinary weather permanently altered this complex system. Understanding how adaptive responses to extreme events can trigger unintended consequences may advance long-term planning for resilience in an uncertain future.
Coastal marine ecosystems can be managed by actions undertaken both on the land and in the ocean. Quantifying and comparing the costs and benefits of actions in both realms is therefore necessary for efficient management. Here, we quantify the link between terrestrial sediment runoff and a downstream coastal marine ecosystem and contrast the cost-effectiveness of marine- and land-based conservation actions. We use a dynamic land- and sea-scape model to determine whether limited funds should be directed to 1 of 4 alternative conservation actions-protection on land, protection in the ocean, restoration on land, or restoration in the ocean-to maximise the extent of light-dependent marine benthic habitats across decadal timescales. We apply the model to a case study for a seagrass meadow in Australia. We find that marine restoration is the most cost-effective action over decadal timescales in this system, based on a conservative estimate of the rate at which seagrass can expand into a new habitat. The optimal decision will vary in different social-ecological contexts, but some basic information can guide optimal investments to counteract land- and ocean-based stressors: (1) marine restoration should be prioritised if the rates of marine ecosystem decline and expansion are similar and low; (2) marine protection should take precedence if the rate of marine ecosystem decline is high or if the adjacent catchment is relatively intact and has a low rate of vegetation decline; (3) land-based actions are optimal when the ratio of marine ecosystem expansion to decline is greater than 1:1.4, with terrestrial restoration typically the most cost-effective action; and (4) land protection should be prioritised if the catchment is relatively intact but the rate of vegetation decline is high. These rules of thumb illustrate how cost-effective conservation outcomes for connected land-ocean systems can proceed without complex modelling.
Although antibiotic resistance has become a major threat to human health worldwide, this phenomenon has been largely overlooked in studies in environmental settings. Aquatic environments may provide an ideal setting for the acquisition and dissemination of antibiotic resistance, because they are frequently impacted by anthropogenic activities. This review focuses primarily on the emergence and dissemination of antibiotic resistance in the aquatic environment, with a special emphasis on the role of antibiotic resistance genes.
Recent attention regarding the impacts of oil and gas development and exploitation has focused on the unintentional release of hydrocarbons into the environment, whilst the potential negative effects of other possible avenues of environmental contamination are less well documented. In the hydrocarbon-rich and ecologically sensitive Mackenzie Delta region (NT, Canada), saline wastes associated with hydrocarbon exploration have typically been disposed of in drilling sumps (i.e., large pits excavated into the permafrost) that were believed to be a permanent containment solution. However, failure of permafrost as a waste containment medium may cause impacts to lakes in this sensitive environment. Here, we examine the effects of degrading drilling sumps on water quality by combining paleolimnological approaches with the analysis of an extensive present-day water chemistry dataset. This dataset includes lakes believed to have been impacted by saline drilling fluids leaching from drilling sumps, lakes with no visible disturbances, and lakes impacted by significant, naturally occurring permafrost thaw in the form of retrogressive thaw slumps. We show that lakes impacted by compromised drilling sumps have significantly elevated lakewater conductivity levels compared to control sites. Chloride levels are particularly elevated in sump-impacted lakes relative to all other lakes included in the survey. Paleolimnological analyses showed that invertebrate assemblages appear to have responded to the leaching of drilling wastes by a discernible increase in a taxon known to be tolerant of elevated conductivity coincident with the timing of sump construction. This suggests construction and abandonment techniques at, or soon after, sump establishment may result in impacts to downstream aquatic ecosystems. With hydrocarbon development in the north predicted to expand in the coming decades, the use of sumps must be examined in light of the threat of accelerated permafrost thaw, and the potential for these industrial wastes to impact sensitive Arctic ecosystems.
Better mitigation of anthropogenic stressors on marine ecosystems is urgently needed to address increasing biodiversity losses worldwide. We explore opportunities for stressor mitigation using whole-of-systems modelling of ecological resilience, accounting for complex interactions between stressors, their timing and duration, background environmental conditions and biological processes. We then search for ecological windows, times when stressors minimally impact ecological resilience, defined here as risk, recovery and resistance. We show for 28 globally distributed seagrass meadows that stressor scheduling that exploits ecological windows for dredging campaigns can achieve up to a fourfold reduction in recovery time and 35% reduction in extinction risk. Although the timing and length of windows vary among sites to some degree, global trends indicate favourable windows in autumn and winter. Our results demonstrate that resilience is dynamic with respect to space, time and stressors, varying most strongly with: (i) the life history of the seagrass genus and (ii) the duration and timing of the impacting stress.