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Concept: Ecosystems


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.

Concepts: Water, Water pollution, Ecosystem, Aquatic ecology, Aquatic ecosystem, Systems ecology, Marine pollution, Ecosystems


Biofilms play an important role as a settlement cue for invertebrate larvae and significantly contribute to the nutrient turnover in aquatic ecosystems. Nevertheless, little is known about how biofilm community structure generally responds to environmental changes. This study aimed to identify patterns of bacterial dynamics in coral reef biofilms in response to associated macrofouling community structure, microhabitat (exposed vs. sheltered), seasonality, and eutrophication. Settlement tiles were deployed at four reefs along a cross-shelf eutrophication gradient and were exchanged every 4 months over 20 months. The fouling community composition on the tiles was recorded and the bacterial community structure was assessed with the community fingerprinting technique Automated Ribosomal Intergenic Spacer Analysis (ARISA). Bacterial operational taxonomic unit (OTU) number was higher on exposed tiles, where the fouling community was homogenous and algae-dominated, than in sheltered habitats, which were occupied by a variety of filter feeders. Furthermore, OTU number was also highest in eutrophied near-shore reefs, while seasonal variations in community structure were most pronounced in the oligotrophic mid-shelf reef. In contrast, the macrofouling community structure did not change significantly with seasons. Changes in bacterial community patterns were mostly affected by microhabitat, seasonal and anthropogenically derived changes in nutrient availability, and to a lesser extent by changes in the macrofouling community structure. Path analysis revealed a complex interplay of various environmental and biological factors explaining the spatial and temporal variations in bacterial biofilm communities under natural conditions.

Concepts: DNA, Bacteria, Coral reef, Ecosystem, Biofilm, Cnidaria, Aquatic ecology, Ecosystems


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.

Concepts: Human, Environment, Antibiotic resistance, Natural environment, Setting, Aquatic ecosystem, Ecosystems


Widespread evidence that organic matter exported from terrestrial into aquatic ecosystems supports recipient food webs remains controversial. A pressing question is not only whether high terrestrial support is possible but also what the general conditions are under which it arises. We assemble the largest data set, to date, of the isotopic composition (δ(2)H, δ(13)C, and δ(15)N) of lake zooplankton and the resources at the base of their associated food webs. In total, our data set spans 559 observations across 147 lakes from the boreal to subtropics. By predicting terrestrial resource support from within-lake and catchment-level characteristics, we found that half of all consumer observations that is, the median were composed of at least 42% terrestrially derived material. In general, terrestrial support of zooplankton was greatest in lakes with large physical and hydrological connections to catchments that were rich in aboveground and belowground organic matter. However, some consumers responded less strongly to terrestrial resources where within-lake production was elevated. Our study shows that multiple mechanisms drive widespread cross-ecosystem support of aquatic consumers across Northern Hemisphere lakes and suggests that changes in terrestrial landscapes will influence ecosystem processes well beyond their boundaries.

Concepts: Climate, Ecosystem, Aquatic ecology, Ecosystem ecology, Aquatic ecosystem, Systems ecology, Resources, Ecosystems


Fishing is widely considered a leading cause of biodiversity loss in marine environments, but the potential effect on ecosystem processes, such as nutrient fluxes, is less explored. Here, we test how fishing on Caribbean coral reefs influences biodiversity and ecosystem functions provided by the fish community, that is, fish-mediated nutrient capacity. Specifically, we modelled five processes of nutrient storage (in biomass) and supply (via excretion) of nutrients, as well as a measure of their multifunctionality, onto 143 species of coral reef fishes across 110 coral reef fish communities. These communities span a gradient from extreme fishing pressure to protected areas with little to no fishing. We find that in fished sites fish-mediated nutrient capacity is reduced almost 50%, despite no substantial changes in the number of species. Instead, changes in community size and trophic structure were the primary cause of shifts in ecosystem function. These findings suggest that a broader perspective that incorporates predictable impacts of fishing pressure on ecosystem function is imperative for effective coral reef conservation and management.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Fish, Ecology, Coral, Coral reef, Ecosystem, Fisheries, Ecosystems


The use of environmental DNA (eDNA) to determine the presence and distribution of aquatic organisms has become an important tool to monitor and investigate freshwater communities. The successful application of this method in the field, however, is dependent on the effectiveness of positive DNA verification, which is influenced by site-specific environmental parameters. Factors affecting eDNA concentrations in aquatic ecosystems include flow conditions, and the presence of substances that possess DNA-binding properties or inhibitory effects. In this study we investigated the influence of different environmental parameters on the detection success of eDNA using the invasive goby Neogobius melanostomus. In a standardized laboratory setup, different conditions of flow, sediment-properties, and fish density were compared, as well as different potential natural inhibitors such as algae, humic substances, and suspended sediment particles. The presence of sediment was mainly responsible for lower eDNA detection in the water samples, regardless of flow-through or standing water conditions and a delayed release of eDNA was detected in the presence of sediment. Humic substances had the highest inhibitory effect on eDNA detection followed by algae and siliceous sediment particles. The results of our study highlight that a successful application of eDNA methods in field surveys strongly depends on site-specific conditions, such as water flow conditions, sediment composition, and suspended particles. All these factors should be carefully considered when sampling, analyzing, and interpreting eDNA detection results.

Concepts: Effect, Water, Effectiveness, Soil, Ecosystem, Aquatic ecosystem, Systems ecology, Ecosystems


Continuing degradation of coral reef ecosystems has generated substantial interest in how management can support reef resilience. Fishing is the primary source of diminished reef function globally, leading to widespread calls for additional marine reserves to recover fish biomass and restore key ecosystem functions. Yet there are no established baselines for determining when these conservation objectives have been met or whether alternative management strategies provide similar ecosystem benefits. Here we establish empirical conservation benchmarks and fish biomass recovery timelines against which coral reefs can be assessed and managed by studying the recovery potential of more than 800 coral reefs along an exploitation gradient. We show that resident reef fish biomass in the absence of fishing (B0) averages ∼1,000 kg ha(-1), and that the vast majority (83%) of fished reefs are missing more than half their expected biomass, with severe consequences for key ecosystem functions such as predation. Given protection from fishing, reef fish biomass has the potential to recover within 35 years on average and less than 60 years when heavily depleted. Notably, alternative fisheries restrictions are largely (64%) successful at maintaining biomass above 50% of B0, sustaining key functions such as herbivory. Our results demonstrate that crucial ecosystem functions can be maintained through a range of fisheries restrictions, allowing coral reef managers to develop recovery plans that meet conservation and livelihood objectives in areas where marine reserves are not socially or politically feasible solutions.

Concepts: Fish, Ecology, Coral, Coral reef, Ecosystem, Cnidaria, Fisheries, Ecosystems


Changes in spring and autumn phenology of temperate plants in recent decades have become iconic bio-indicators of rapid climate change. These changes have substantial ecological and economic impacts. However, autumn phenology remains surprisingly little studied. Although the effects of unfavorable environmental conditions (e.g., frost, heat, wetness, and drought) on autumn phenology have been observed for over 60 y, how these factors interact to influence autumn phenological events remain poorly understood. Using remotely sensed phenology data from 2001 to 2012, this study identified and quantified significant effects of a suite of environmental factors on the timing of fall dormancy of deciduous forest communities in New England, United States. Cold, frost, and wet conditions, and high heat-stress tended to induce earlier dormancy of deciduous forests, whereas moderate heat- and drought-stress delayed dormancy. Deciduous forests in two eco-regions showed contrasting, nonlinear responses to variation in these explanatory factors. Based on future climate projection over two periods (2041-2050 and 2090-2099), later dormancy dates were predicted in northern areas. However, in coastal areas earlier dormancy dates were predicted. Our models suggest that besides warming in climate change, changes in frost and moisture conditions as well as extreme weather events (e.g., drought- and heat-stress, and flooding), should also be considered in future predictions of autumn phenology in temperate deciduous forests. This study improves our understanding of how multiple environmental variables interact to affect autumn phenology in temperate deciduous forest ecosystems, and points the way to building more mechanistic and predictive models.

Concepts: Scientific method, Prediction, Futurology, Future, Weather, Global warming, Extreme weather, Ecosystems


Secondary (i.e., heterotrophic or animal) production is a main pathway of energy flow through an ecosystem as it makes energy available to consumers, including humans. Its estimation can play a valuable role in the examination of linkages between ecosystem functions and services. We found that oil and gas platforms off the coast of California have the highest secondary fish production per unit area of seafloor of any marine habitat that has been studied, about an order of magnitude higher than fish communities from other marine ecosystems. Most previous estimates have come from estuarine environments, generally regarded as one of the most productive ecosystems globally. High rates of fish production on these platforms ultimately result from high levels of recruitment and the subsequent growth of primarily rockfish (genus Sebastes) larvae and pelagic juveniles to the substantial amount of complex hardscape habitat created by the platform structure distributed throughout the water column. The platforms have a high ratio of structural surface area to seafloor surface area, resulting in large amounts of habitat for juvenile and adult demersal fishes over a relatively small footprint of seafloor. Understanding the biological implications of these structures will inform policy related to the decommissioning of existing (e.g., oil and gas platforms) and implementation of emerging (e.g., wind, marine hydrokinetic) energy technologies.

Concepts: Organism, Water, Ecology, Structure, Natural environment, Aquatic ecosystem, Systems ecology, Ecosystems


A major challenge for ecological research is to identify ways to improve resilience to climate-induced changes in order to secure the ecosystem functions of natural systems, as well as ecosystem services for human welfare. With respect to aquatic ecosystems, interactions between climate warming and the elevated runoff of humic substances (brownification) may strongly affect ecosystem functions and services. However, we hitherto lack the adaptive management tools needed to counteract such global-scale effects on freshwater ecosystems. Here we show, both experimentally and using monitoring data, that predicted climatic warming and brownification will reduce freshwater quality by exacerbating cyanobacterial growth and toxin levels. Furthermore, in a model based on long-term data from a natural system, we demonstrate that food web management has the potential to increase the resilience of freshwater systems against the growth of harmful cyanobacteria, and thereby that local efforts offer an opportunity to secure our water resources against some of the negative impacts of climate warming and brownification. This allows for novel policy action at a local scale to counteract effects of global-scale environmental change, thereby providing a buffer period and a safer operating space until climate mitigation strategies are effectively established.

Concepts: Water, Ecology, Natural environment, Soil, Ecosystem, Aquatic ecosystem, Systems ecology, Ecosystems