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Concept: Marine biology

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A Marine Climate Impacts Workshop was held from 29 April to 3 May 2012 at the US National Center of Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara. This workshop was the culmination of a series of six meetings over the past three years, which had brought together 25 experts in climate change ecology, analysis of large datasets, palaeontology, marine ecology and physical oceanography. Aims of these workshops were to produce a global synthesis of climate impacts on marine biota, to identify sensitive habitats and taxa, to inform the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process, and to strengthen research into ecological impacts of climate change.

Concepts: Biology, Life, Oceanography, Greek loanwords, Ocean, Marine biology, Zooplankton, Outline of biology

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In extreme high-latitude marine environments that are without solar illumination in winter, light-mediated patterns of biological migration have historically been considered non-existent [1]. However, diel vertical migration (DVM) of zooplankton has been shown to occur even during the darkest part of the polar night, when illumination levels are exceptionally low [2, 3]. This paradox is, as yet, unexplained. Here, we present evidence of an unexpected uniform behavior across the entire Arctic, in fjord, shelf, slope and open sea, where vertical migrations of zooplankton are driven by lunar illumination. A shift from solar-day (24-hr period) to lunar-day (24.8-hr period) vertical migration takes place in winter when the moon rises above the horizon. Further, mass sinking of zooplankton from the surface waters and accumulation at a depth of ∼50 m occurs every 29.5 days in winter, coincident with the periods of full moon. Moonlight may enable predation of zooplankton by carnivorous zooplankters, fish, and birds now known to feed during the polar night [4]. Although primary production is almost nil at this time, lunar vertical migration (LVM) may facilitate monthly pulses of carbon remineralization, as they occur continuously in illuminated mesopelagic systems [5], due to community respiration of carnivorous and detritivorous zooplankton. The extent of LVM during the winter suggests that the behavior is highly conserved and adaptive and therefore needs to be considered as “baseline” zooplankton activity in a changing Arctic ocean [6-9]. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Concepts: Moon, Arctic Ocean, Marine biology, Zooplankton, Plankton, Arctic Circle, Svalbard, Diel vertical migration

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Coal is a principal fossil fuel driving economic and social development, and increases in global coal shipments have paralleled expansion of the industry. To identify the potential harm associated with chronic marine coal contamination, three taxa abundant in tropical marine ecosystems (the coral Acropora tenuis, the reef fish Acanthochromis polyacanthus and the seagrass Halodule uninervis) were exposed to five concentrations (0-275 mg coal l(-1)) of suspended coal dust (<63 μm) over 28 d. Results demonstrate that chronic coal exposure can cause considerable lethal effects on corals, and reductions in seagrass and fish growth rates. Coral survivorship and seagrass growth rates were inversely related to increasing coal concentrations (≥38 mg coal l(-1)) and effects increased between 14 and 28 d, whereas fish growth rates were similarly depressed at all coal concentrations tested. This investigation provides novel insights into direct coal impacts on key tropical taxa for application in the assessment of risks posed by increasing coal shipments in globally threatened marine ecosystems.

Concepts: Coral, Coral reef, Scleractinia, Fossil fuel, Fisheries, Coal, Marine biology, Acropora

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Marine ecosystems worldwide are under threat with many fish species and populations suffering from human over-exploitation. This is greatly impacting global biodiversity, economy and human health. Intriguingly, marine fish are largely surveyed using selective and invasive methods, which are mostly limited to commercial species, and restricted to particular areas with favourable conditions. Furthermore, misidentification of species represents a major problem. Here, we investigate the potential of using metabarcoding of environmental DNA (eDNA) obtained directly from seawater samples to account for marine fish biodiversity. This eDNA approach has recently been used successfully in freshwater environments, but never in marine settings. We isolate eDNA from ½-litre seawater samples collected in a temperate marine ecosystem in Denmark. Using next-generation DNA sequencing of PCR amplicons, we obtain eDNA from 15 different fish species, including both important consumption species, as well as species rarely or never recorded by conventional monitoring. We also detect eDNA from a rare vagrant species in the area; European pilchard (Sardina pilchardus). Additionally, we detect four bird species. Records in national databases confirmed the occurrence of all detected species. To investigate the efficiency of the eDNA approach, we compared its performance with 9 methods conventionally used in marine fish surveys. Promisingly, eDNA covered the fish diversity better than or equal to any of the applied conventional methods. Our study demonstrates that even small samples of seawater contain eDNA from a wide range of local fish species. Finally, in order to examine the potential dispersal of eDNA in oceans, we performed an experiment addressing eDNA degradation in seawater, which shows that even small (100-bp) eDNA fragments degrades beyond detectability within days. Although further studies are needed to validate the eDNA approach in varying environmental conditions, our findings provide a strong proof-of-concept with great perspectives for future monitoring of marine biodiversity and resources.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Fish, Ecology, Natural environment, Fisheries, Ocean, Aquatic ecology, Marine biology

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The near-term progression of ocean acidification (OA) is projected to bring about sharp changes in the chemistry of coastal upwelling ecosystems. The distribution of OA exposure across these early-impact systems, however, is highly uncertain and limits our understanding of whether and how spatial management actions can be deployed to ameliorate future impacts. Through a novel coastal OA observing network, we have uncovered a remarkably persistent spatial mosaic in the penetration of acidified waters into ecologically-important nearshore habitats across 1,000 km of the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. In the most severe exposure hotspots, suboptimal conditions for calcifying organisms encompassed up to 56% of the summer season, and were accompanied by some of the lowest and most variable pH environments known for the surface ocean. Persistent refuge areas were also found, highlighting new opportunities for local adaptation to address the global challenge of OA in productive coastal systems.

Concepts: Oceanography, Knowledge, Ocean, Aquatic ecology, Systems ecology, Marine biology, Ocean acidification, California Current

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To better predict the ecological and evolutionary effects of the emerging biodiversity crisis in the modern oceans, we compared the association between extinction threat and ecological traits in modern marine animals to associations observed during past extinction events using a database of 2497 marine vertebrate and mollusc genera. We find that extinction threat in the modern oceans is strongly associated with large body size, whereas past extinction events were either nonselective or preferentially removed smaller-bodied taxa. Pelagic animals were victimized more than benthic animals during previous mass extinctions but are not preferentially threatened in the modern ocean. The differential importance of large-bodied animals to ecosystem function portends greater future ecological disruption than that caused by similar levels of taxonomic loss in past mass extinction events.

Concepts: Biology, Oceanography, Extinction, Ocean, Marine biology, Dinosaur, Extinction event, Timeline of extinctions

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Delayed Earth system recovery following the end-Permian mass extinction is often attributed to severe ocean anoxia. However, the extent and duration of Early Triassic anoxia remains poorly constrained. Here we use paired records of uranium concentrations ([U]) and (238)U/(235)U isotopic compositions (δ(238)U) of Upper Permian-Upper Triassic marine limestones from China and Turkey to quantify variations in global seafloor redox conditions. We observe abrupt decreases in [U] and δ(238)U across the end-Permian extinction horizon, from ∼3 ppm and -0.15‰ to ∼0.3 ppm and -0.77‰, followed by a gradual return to preextinction values over the subsequent 5 million years. These trends imply a factor of 100 increase in the extent of seafloor anoxia and suggest the presence of a shallow oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) that inhibited the recovery of benthic animal diversity and marine ecosystem function. We hypothesize that in the Early Triassic oceans-characterized by prolonged shallow anoxia that may have impinged onto continental shelves-global biogeochemical cycles and marine ecosystem structure became more sensitive to variation in the position of the OMZ. Under this hypothesis, the Middle Triassic decline in bottom water anoxia, stabilization of biogeochemical cycles, and diversification of marine animals together reflect the development of a deeper and less extensive OMZ, which regulated Earth system recovery following the end-Permian catastrophe.

Concepts: Oxygen, Oceanography, Ecosystem, Hypothesis, Marine biology, Dinosaur, Extinction event, Triassic

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Secondarily marine vertebrates are thought to live independently of fresh water. Here, we demonstrate a paradigm shift for the widely distributed pelagic sea snake, Hydrophis (Pelamis) platurus, which dehydrates at sea and spends a significant part of its life in a dehydrated state corresponding to seasonal drought. Snakes that are captured following prolonged periods without rainfall have lower body water content, lower body condition and increased tendencies to drink fresh water than do snakes that are captured following seasonal periods of high rainfall. These animals do not drink seawater and must rehydrate by drinking from a freshwater lens that forms on the ocean surface during heavy precipitation. The new data based on field studies indicate unequivocally that this marine vertebrate dehydrates at sea where individuals may live in a dehydrated state for possibly six to seven months at a time. This information provides new insights for understanding water requirements of sea snakes, reasons for recent declines and extinctions of sea snakes and more accurate prediction for how changing patterns of precipitation might affect these and other secondarily marine vertebrates living in tropical oceans.

Concepts: Water, Oceanography, Dehydration, Seawater, Ocean, Marine biology, Rain, Elapidae

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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.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ratio, Cost-utility analysis, Sustainability, Landscape ecology, Aquatic ecosystem, Systems ecology, Marine biology

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Biologically generated turbulence has been proposed as an important contributor to nutrient transport and ocean mixing1-3. However, to produce non-negligible transport and mixing, such turbulence must produce eddies at scales comparable to the length scales of stratification in the ocean. It has previously been argued that biologically generated turbulence is limited to the scale of the individual animals involved 4 , which would make turbulence created by highly abundant centimetre-scale zooplankton such as krill irrelevant to ocean mixing. Their small size notwithstanding, zooplankton form dense aggregations tens of metres in vertical extent as they undergo diurnal vertical migration over hundreds of metres3,5,6. This behaviour potentially introduces additional length scales-such as the scale of the aggregation-that are of relevance to animal interactions with the surrounding water column. Here we show that the collective vertical migration of centimetre-scale swimmers-as represented by the brine shrimp Artemia salina-generates aggregation-scale eddies that mix a stable density stratification, resulting in an effective turbulent diffusivity up to three orders of magnitude larger than the molecular diffusivity of salt. These observed large-scale mixing eddies are the result of flow in the wakes of the individual organisms coalescing to form a large-scale downward jet during upward swimming, even in the presence of a strong density stratification relative to typical values observed in the ocean. The results illustrate the potential for marine zooplankton to considerably alter the physical and biogeochemical structure of the water column, with potentially widespread effects owing to their high abundance in climatically important regions of the ocean 7 .

Concepts: Water, Fluid dynamics, Orders of magnitude, Crustacean, Brine shrimp, Turbulence, Marine biology, Zooplankton