Concept: Sea otter
At 50 kg in estimated weight, the extinct Siamogale melilutra is larger than all living otters, and ranks among the largest fossil otters. The biomechanical capability of S. melilutra jaws as related to their large size is unknown but crucial to reconstructing the species' potentially unique ecological niche. Here we compare the mandibular biomechanics of S. melilutra using engineering-based performance measures against ten extant otter biomechanical models. Despite a wide range of feeding preferences from durophagy to piscivory, living otter species exhibit a linear relationship between mandible stiffness and volume, as expected in isometric model scaling. In contrast, S. melilutra models exhibit a six-fold increase in stiffness from expected stiffness-volume relationships calculated from extant species models. Unlike stiffness, mechanical efficiency of biting is conserved among living otters and in S. melilutra. These findings indicate that although similar to living bunodont otters in morphology and biting efficiency, jaw strength in S. melilutra far surpasses molluscivores such as sea otters and Cape clawless otters, even after accounting for size. Therefore, Siamogale represents a feeding ecomorphology with no living analog, and its giant size and high mandibular strength confer shell-crushing capability matched only by other extinct molluscivores such as the marine bear Kolponomos.
Nodal and BMP signals are important for establishing left-right (LR) asymmetry in vertebrates. In sea urchins, Nodal signaling prevents the formation of the rudiment on the right side. However, the opposing pathway to Nodal signaling during LR axis establishment is not clear. Here, we revealed that BMP signaling is activated in the left coelomic pouch, specifically in the veg2 lineage, but not in the small micromeres. By perturbing BMP activities, we demonstrated that BMP signaling is required for activating the expression of the left-sided genes and the formation of the left-sided structures. On the other hand, Nodal signals on the right side inhibit BMP signaling and control LR asymmetric separation and apoptosis of the small micromeres. Our findings show that BMP signaling is the positive signal for left-sided development in sea urchins, suggesting that the opposing roles of Nodal and BMP signals in establishing LR asymmetry are conserved in deuterostomes.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 4 years ago
The late Pleistocene extinction of so many large-bodied vertebrates has been variously attributed to two general causes: rapid climate change and the effects of humans as they spread from the Old World to previously uninhabited continents and islands. Many large-bodied vertebrates, especially large apex predators, maintain their associated ecosystems through top-down forcing processes, especially trophic cascades, and megaherbivores also exert an array of strong indirect effects on their communities. Thus, a third possibility for at least some of the Pleistocene extinctions is that they occurred through habitat changes resulting from the loss of these other keystone species. Here we explore the plausibility of this mechanism, using information on sea otters, kelp forests, and the recent extinction of Steller’s sea cows from the Commander Islands. Large numbers of sea cows occurred in the Commander Islands at the time of their discovery by Europeans in 1741. Although extinction of these last remaining sea cows during early years of the Pacific maritime fur trade is widely thought to be a consequence of direct human overkill, we show that it is also a probable consequence of the loss of sea otters and the co-occurring loss of kelp, even if not a single sea cow had been killed directly by humans. This example supports the hypothesis that the directly caused extinctions of a few large vertebrates in the late Pleistocene may have resulted in the coextinction of numerous other species.
Skulls (n = 1,205) of southern sea otters were examined macroscopically according to defined criteria. The museum specimens, acquired from strandings, varied in age from juvenile to adult, with an equal sex distribution. The results from all young adult and adult specimens were pooled according to tooth type. Ninety-two percent of teeth were available for examination, with 6.5% artifactually absent, 0.6% deemed absent due to acquired tooth loss and 0.03% deemed congenitally absent. All teeth were normal in morphology, except for three pairs of fused teeth, including two instances of fused maxillary first incisor teeth. Supernumerary teeth were associated with 97 normal teeth (most commonly maxillary canine teeth) in 68 specimens. At least one persistent deciduous tooth was present in six skulls, two of which were from adults. The majority (94.6%) of alveoli, either with or without teeth, were not associated with bony changes consistent with periodontitis; however, the majority (74.4%) of specimens did have at least one tooth associated with mild periodontitis. The mesial root of the mandibular third premolar tooth was the most common location at which periodontal hard tissue lesions were observed (56.6%). Ten sea otters had lesions consistent with focal enamel hypoplasia. Approximately half of the teeth (52.0%) were abraded; almost all adult specimens (98.1%) contained at least one abraded tooth, while fewer young adults were affected (76.4%). Tooth fractures were uncommon, affecting 1,343 teeth (4.5%). Periapical lesions were associated with 409 teeth (1.3%) in a total of 176 specimens, and these would likely have caused considerable morbidity while the animals were alive.
Setting realistic recovery targets for two interacting endangered species, sea otter and northern abalone.
- Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology
- Published over 7 years ago
Failure to account for interactions between endangered species may lead to unexpected population dynamics, inefficient management strategies, waste of scarce resources, and, at worst, increased extinction risk. The importance of species interactions is undisputed, yet recovery targets generally do not account for such interactions. This shortcoming is a consequence of species-centered legislation, but also of uncertainty surrounding the dynamics of species interactions and the complexity of modeling such interactions. The northern sea otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) and one of its preferred prey, northern abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana), are endangered species for which recovery strategies have been developed without consideration of their strong predator-prey interactions. Using simulation-based optimization procedures from artificial intelligence, namely reinforcement learning and stochastic dynamic programming, we combined sea otter and northern abalone population models with functional-response models and examined how different management actions affect population dynamics and the likelihood of achieving recovery targets for each species through time. Recovery targets for these interacting species were difficult to achieve simultaneously in the absence of management. Although sea otters were predicted to recover, achieving abalone recovery targets failed even when threats to abalone such as predation and poaching were reduced. A management strategy entailing a 50% reduction in the poaching of northern abalone was a minimum requirement to reach short-term recovery goals for northern abalone when sea otters were present. Removing sea otters had a marginally positive effect on the abalone population but only when we assumed a functional response with strong predation pressure. Our optimization method could be applied more generally to any interacting threatened or invasive species for which there are multiple conservation objectives. Definición de Metas de Recuperación Realistas para Dos Especies en Peligro Interactuantes, Enhydra lutris y Haliotis kamtschatkana.
Echinoids, or sea urchins, are rare in the Palaeozoic fossil record, and thus the details regarding the early diversification of crown group echinoids are unclear. Here we report on the earliest probable crown group echinoid from the fossil record, recovered from Permian (Roadian-Capitanian) rocks of west Texas, which has important implications for the timing of the divergence of crown group echinoids. The presence of apophyses and rigidly sutured interambulacral areas with two columns of plates indicates this species is a cidaroid echinoid. The species, Eotiaris guadalupensis, n. sp. is therefore the earliest stem group cidaroid. The occurrence of this species in Roadian strata pushes back the divergence of cidaroids and euechinoids, the clades that comprise all living echinoids, to at least 268.8 Ma, ten million years older than the previously oldest known cidaroid. Furthermore, the genomic regulation of development in echinoids is amongst the best known, and this new species informs the timing of large-scale reorganization in echinoid gene regulatory networks that occurred at the cidaroid-euechinoid divergence, indicating that these changes took place by the Roadian stage of the Permian.
- International journal for parasitology. Parasites and wildlife
- Published almost 5 years ago
A recent series of studies on tagged sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) challenges the hypothesis that sea otters are sentinels of a dirty ocean, in particular, that pet cats are the main source of exposure to Toxoplasma gondii in central California. Counter to expectations, sea otters from unpopulated stretches of coastline are less healthy and more exposed to parasites than city-associated otters. Ironically, now it seems that spillover from wildlife, not pets, dominates spatial patterns of disease transmission.
Arctic marine mammal population status, sea ice habitat loss, and conservation recommendations for the 21st century
- Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology
- Published about 5 years ago
Arctic marine mammals (AMMs) are icons of climate change, largely because of their close association with sea ice. However, neither a circumpolar assessment of AMM status nor a standardized metric of sea ice habitat change is available. We summarized available data on abundance and trend for each AMM species and recognized subpopulation. We also examined species diversity, the extent of human use, and temporal trends in sea ice habitat for 12 regions of the Arctic by calculating the dates of spring sea ice retreat and fall sea ice advance from satellite data (1979-2013). Estimates of AMM abundance varied greatly in quality, and few studies were long enough for trend analysis. Of the AMM subpopulations, 78% (61 of 78) are legally harvested for subsistence purposes. Changes in sea ice phenology have been profound. In all regions except the Bering Sea, the duration of the summer (i.e., reduced ice) period increased by 5-10 weeks and by >20 weeks in the Barents Sea between 1979 and 2013. In light of generally poor data, the importance of human use, and forecasted environmental changes in the 21st century, we recommend the following for effective AMM conservation: maintain and improve comanagement by local, federal, and international partners; recognize spatial and temporal variability in AMM subpopulation response to climate change; implement monitoring programs with clear goals; mitigate cumulative impacts of increased human activity; and recognize the limits of current protected species legislation.
The northern sea otter inhabits coastal waters of the northern Pacific Ocean and is the largest member of the Mustelidae family. DNA sequencing methods that utilize microfluidic partitioned and non-partitioned library construction were used to establish the sea otter genome. The final assembly provided 2.426 Gbp of highly contiguous assembled genomic sequences with a scaffold N50 length of over 38 Mbp. We generated transcriptome data derived from a lymphoma to aid in the determination of functional elements. The assembled genome sequence and underlying sequence data are available at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) under the BioProject accession number PRJNA388419.
Marine mammals are often cited as “sentinels of ocean health” yet accessible, synthesized data on their health changes that could effectively warn of ocean health changes are rare. The objectives of this study were to 1) perform a systematic review of published cases of marine mammal disease to determine spatial and temporal trends in disease from 1972-2012, including changes in regions and taxa affected and specific causes; and 2) compare numbers of published cases of neoplasia with known, hospital-based neoplasia records to explore the causes of discrepancy between numbers of published cases and true disease trends. Peer-reviewed literature was compiled, and data were collected from The Marine Mammal Center database in Sausalito, California for comparison of numbers of neoplasia cases. Toxicoses from harmful algal blooms appear to be increasing. Viral epidemics are most common along the Atlantic U.S. coastline, while bacterial epidemics, especially leptospirosis, are most common along the Pacific coast. Certain protozoal and fungal zoonoses appear to be emerging, such as Toxoplasma gondii in southern sea otters in California, and Cryptococcus gattii in cetaceans in the Pacific Northwest. Disease reports were most common from California where pinniped populations are large, but increased effort also occurs. Anthropogenic trauma remains a large threat to marine mammal health, through direct mortality and indirect chronic disease. Neoplasia cases were under-reported from 2003-2012 when compared to true number of cases, and over-reported in several years due to case duplication. Peer-reviewed literature greatly underestimates the true magnitude of disease in marine mammals as it focuses on novel findings, fails to reflect etiology of multifactorial diseases, rarely reports prevalence rather than simple numbers of cases, and is typically presented years after a disease first occurs. Thus literature cannot guide management actions adequately, nor inform indices of ocean health. A real-time, nationally centralized system for reporting marine mammal disease data is needed to be able to understand how marine mammal diseases are changing with ecosystem changes, and before these animals can truly be considered ‘sentinels of ocean health’.