Showing posts with label fisheries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fisheries. Show all posts

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Florida’s coastal nightmare

*This is a guest post by Katherine Datuin- student in my 'Causes & Consequences of Biodiversity' course. 

Imagine going on vacation to beautiful, warm Florida just to find entire beaches strewn with the rotting remains of hundreds of fish, sea turtles and manatees. This is unfortunately not a nightmare, but a current reality for the residents of southwestern Florida, and it has been this way for almost a year now. What causing all this? This little guy. 

Figure 1. Kareina brevis living cell. Photo modified from Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
These events were brought to my attention through a recent article published by Vox news highlighting the consequences of such large and long-lasting harmful algal blooms, specifically the “Red Tide” in southwestern Florida (Resnick B. 2018). Kareina brevis, the algal species responsible, has been in bloom since November of last year. According to the article, this event constitutes the longest “Red Tide” algal bloom in history. Regularly, blooms occur seasonally, lasting only from a few weeks to a couple months. The length of bloom in combination with the species responsible is catastrophic for the surrounding environment. This species of algae produces a suite of neurotoxins known as brevetoxins (Gebhard et al. 2015). Exposure to these toxins within marine environments has resulted in massive fish kills and increased mortality in loggerhead turtle, and marine mammal populations (Walsh C. et al. 2010).

Figure 2. Kemp's ridley sea turtle on Sanibel Island. Photo modified from Andrew West/The News-Press via USA TODAY
Then why is all this so scary? It is because such Red Tide of this nature have never been recorded. This situation is novel, and therefore its overall effect on the underlying ecosystem is unknown. What is known is that mortality rates are increasing. More and more animals are dying as a result of this bloom, but the significance of the losses is still unknown. Will the affected species recover following this event? Will species be lost? Is the length of this bloom unique or will future blooms also be so long? What factors contributed to or enabled such a long-lasting bloom?   

It is equally important to consider the impacts such events will have on us humans. Human health can be directly or indirectly effected by these toxins through toxic aerosols and consumption of contaminated shellfish respectively. Studies have shown that an increased incidence of both respiratory and digestive illnesses can be found in relation to Red Tide presence, especially in those aged 55 or older (Hoagland P. et al. 2014). According to the United States Census Bureau, from estimates in 2017, about 20% of Florida’s population is 65 years of age or older. This means a high percentage of the population is at risk of suffering either respiratory or digestive illnesses due to this bloom. As well as its effects on human health, the Red Tide greatly impacts Florida’s fishing and tourism industries.

Figure 3. Red Tide devastation in Florida. Photo modified from Ben Depp Via National Geographic.
What can we do to prevent these blooms?
Although the specific conditions which enabled this bloom are unknown, many studies have hypothesized which factors likely contributed to this increase in length and frequency. The article states that human activity and climate change are likely the two factors with greatest influence. This is probably because like all other algal species, K. brevis requires sufficient macro-nutrient to enable blooms (Hoagland P. et al. 2014). Increased agricultural practices, water runoff and changes to atmospheric depositions could all contribute to a surplus of nutrients entering the water system and thus becoming available for these algae (Hoagland P. et al. 2014).  To mitigate the impacts of Red Tides, it is important to educate the local communities about how their actions effect their environment. For example, improving the public understanding of how fertilizer use can lead to greater blooms and how blooms effect charismatic species like turtles and dolphins. The public should also be informed of the ways in which Red Tides directly affect their communities from damage to fisheries and tourism to public health concerns.

The effects of the Florida Red Tide can be felt among all trophic levels in the surrounding marine and terrestrial environments. The causes and consequences of this specific event are still unknown and will likely be the subject of rigorous future studies. We should look to determine how we can prevent or minimize the length and severity of these blooms in order to protect the marine environment, the fisheries and tourism industries, and finally our own health.

Gebhard, E., Levin M., Bogomolni A., Guise S.D., “Immunomodulatory effects of brevetoxin (PbTx-3) upon in vitro exposure in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates)” Harmful Algae. 44(2015): 52-62.

Hoagland P., Jin D., Beet A., Kirkpatrick B., Reich A., Ullmann S., Fleming L.E., Kirkpatrick G. “The human health effects of Florida Red Tide (FRT) blooms: expanded analysis”. Environment International. 68 (2014) 144-153.

Resnick, B. Why Florida’s red tide is killing fish, manatees, and turtles. Vox news. October 8th, 2018.

Walsh C.J., Leggett S.R., Carter B.J., Colle C. “Effects of brevetoxin exposure on the immune system of loggerhead sea turtles”. Aquatic toxicology. 97(2010): 293-303.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Waste not, want not? How human food waste changes ecosystems

Daniel Oro, Meritxell Genovart, Giacomo Tavecchia, Mike S. Fowler and Alejandro Martínez-Abraín. 2013. Ecological and evolutionary implications of food subsidies from humans. Ecology Letters. Volume 16, Issue 12, pp 1501–1514. DOI: 10.1111/ele.12187

Humans have always been connected to their environment, directly and indirectly. Ecologists in particular, and people in general, have been thinking about the causes and consequences of these connections for hundreds of years. One form of interaction results when human food resources become available to other animals – for example, through waste dumps, crop waste, fishery by-catches, bird feeders, or road kill. Starting with middens and waste piles in early human settlements, our food waste has always passed t
Garbage dump in India.
o other species. And while rarely considered compared to human impacts like habitat destruction and climate change, a new review by Daniel Oro and colleagues argues that these subsidies have shaped ecosystems around the globe.

Human food waste (aka subsidies) may come from a variety of human activities, with the three most prominent being crop residuals (remnants of harvest remaining on fields), waste dumps, and fishery discards (by-catch thrown overboard). Each of these forms of subsidy occurs globally and large numbers of species rely partially or completely on them for food. For example, dumps are global in distribution, and contain enough edible waste to attract 20-30% of all mammal and bird in a region (particularly omnivorous and carnivorous species). Crop residues usually attract herbivorous or granivorous species (particularly birds), while fisheries’ waste alter marine ecosystems. Eight percent of all catch (~7 million tonnes!) is simply released back into the ocean, and this supplements species across the food web, including half of all seabirds.

Food waste from human activities may not seem so terrible – after all, they are predictably available, easy to access, fast to forage, and can lead to increased condition and fertility among species that take advantage of them. For example, seabirds foraging among fishing boats for by-catch take advantage of the predictability of boat (and food) appearances and as a result have decreased foraging time and areas, higher individual fitness and reproductive success, and ultimately increased population growth. But the authors suggest that these benefits must be considered in a more complicated web of interactions. After all, human food subsidies tend to be much more predictable than natural sources of food and quickly have large effects spanning from individuals, communities, ecosystems, and evolutionary pressures.

Individuals often, though not always, experience positive effects from subsidies – increased biomass, fertility, and survival, accompanied by changes in dispersal and ranges. If food waste draws in high densities of individuals, it may be associated with greater disease occurrence, or draw in predators attracted to easy pickings. Populations also often respond positively to food subsidies, and become larger and more stable as food waste availability increases. But this boon for one species can cascade through the food web, and have large negative effects in communities and ecosystems. For example, yellow-legged gulls are found around dumps and fishing trawlers, taking advantage of the quantities of food available there, and as a result have increased greatly in population. The downside is that in turn these larger populations increase predation pressure on other vulnerable seabird species. Seabirds in particular can create complicated interactions between human food waste and far-flung ecosystems, connecting as they do both terrestrial and marine systems, moving nutrients, pollution, and calories between systems and through trophic levels.

Snow goose exclosure in northern Canada.
Only the small green rectangle has avoided goose grazing.
A famous example of the unexpected consequences of waste subsidies is the snow goose (Chen chen caerulescens). Snow geese have moved from feeding predominantly on marsh plants to landing en masse in farmers’ fields to feed on grain residues. This new and widespread source of food lead to a population boom, and the high numbers of geese stripped away the vegetation in the arctic habitats where they summer and breed. Agriculture food subsidies in southern habitats were felt far away in the arctic, as migratory snow geese tied these systems and food webs together. Though snow geese are unlikely to lose their new source of food, other animals may face plummeting populations or extinctions if food sources disappear. Until the 1970s, in Yellowstone, grizzly bears fed nearly exclusively at a local dump that then closed: the result was both increased mortality and rapid increases in foraging distances and behaviours.

Finally, and of most concern, food waste subsidies can alter the selective pressures a population faces. Species that become reliant on dumps or fields for food may experience changes in selective pressures, leading to selection for traits necessary to exploit these subsidies, and a loss of genotypic/phenotypic variation from the population. Changes in selective pressure change with the situation, of course. In the case of Yellowstone, the dump closure and loss of food source seemed to have large effects on traits important for sexual attractiveness in males, suggesting potential effects on reproductive success. In the best known (and my favourite) example of the selective effect of human food waste, dogs eventually were domesticated from wolf ancestors. Of course dumps can also relax selective pressures, if they allow individuals in poor condition (juveniles, the elderly) to successfully feed and reproduce.

Though food waste subsidies are clearly important and can have wide ranging effects, it is worth noting that the effect and importance of food subsidies is context-dependent. Studies seem to indicate that effects are greatest when food is low naturally or habitat quality is poor; in high quality systems, food waste may only be used by juveniles or individuals in poor condition. Unfortunately, as humans degrade natural habitats, subsidies are only likely to increase in importance as a food source for species. The extent and effects of human food waste are yet another legacy of the global alterations the human species has made. Unfortunately, like so many of the changes we have made, the issues are complex and transcend political and regional boundaries. Practices in one system or nation are tied to effects in another nation, and this complexity can make it difficult to monitor and measure the effects of subsidies as thoroughly as is necessary. This review from Oro et al. certainly makes a case for why our garbage needs to receive more attention.
One example of the ecosystem wide effects of subsidies: here, fisheries inputs.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The sushi of tomorrow… Jellyfish rolls?

With the world’s fisheries teetering on the edge of collapse, familiar items at your local sushi bar might disappear in the near future. One candidate for replacing the Hamachi, Ikura, Maguru, Tai, and Toro on the menu is the jellyfish, which seems to be doing well – too well, actually – in today’s environment.

In recent years, jellyfish outbreaks have become more frequent and more severe. These outbreaks can have lasting ecological and economic consequences. They can wreak havoc on the tourist industry by closing beaches and harming swimmers, cause power outages by blocking cooling intakes at coastal power plants, reduce commercial fish abundance via competition and predation, spread fish parasites, burst fishing nets, and contaminate catches.

A review by Anthony Richardson and his collaborators suggests that human activities such as overfishing, eutrophication, climate change, translocation, and habitat modification have dramatically increased jellyfish numbers. Their research, which was published this week in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, highlights that the structure of pelagic ecosystems can abruptly transition from one that is dominated by fish to one that is dominated by jellyfish.

Richardson and his collaborators present a potential mechanism to explain how local jellyfish aggregations can spread, displace fish, and form an alternative stable state to fish-dominated ecosystems. Jellyfish are like the opportunistic weed of the sea, giving them an edge in environments stressed by climate change, eutrophication, and overfishing. In these disturbed environments, the abundance of jellyfish relative to filter-feeding fish increases until a tipping point is reached. Under normal conditions, filter-feeding fish keep jellyfish populations in check via competition for planktonic food and (perhaps) predation on an early life-stage of the jellyfish. At the tipping point, jellyfish numbers are such that they begin to overwhelm any control of their vulnerable life-cycle stages by fish predators. At the same time, jellyfish progressively eliminate competitors and predators via their predation on fish eggs and larvae. As jellyfish abundance increases, sexual reproduction becomes more efficient, allowing them to infest new habitats where fish might have formally controlled jellyfish numbers.

Richardson and his collaborators suggest that one way to hit the brakes on what they call the “the never-ending jellyfish joyride” is to harvest more jellyfish for human consumption. Jellyfish have been eaten for more than 1000 years in China, where they are often added to salads. In Japan they are served as sushi and in Thailand they are turned into a crunchy noodle concoction. Although the taste and texture of jellyfish might not be appealing to some westerners, I for one have yet to meet a sushi that I didn’t like. Of course, jellyfish harvesting is unlikely to return systems to their fish-dominated state if the stresses that caused the ecosystem shift remain.

Richardson, A. J., A. Bakun, G. C. Hays, and M. J. Gibbons. 2009. The jellyfish joyride: Causes, consequences and management responses to a more gelatinous future. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 24 (6), 312-322 DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2009.01.010

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Fisheries and food webs: a whole system approach to cod recovery

ResearchBlogging.orgThe collapse of cod fisheries around the world is a breathtaking example of over exploitation and poor planning. But with reduced fishing pressure why have cod populations shown such slow or stagnant population recovery? This has been an extremely active area of research for fisheries scientists. In a recent paper by Casini and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they found that over-fishing of cod in the Baltic Sea has led to a regime shift, where a small planktivorous fish called sprat now dominate the system. But its not just that there is a new dominant, sprat seem to really change how the ecosystem operates, to the detriment of cod recovery. When the ecosystem was cod dominated, zooplankton abundance was unrelated to sprat abundance but did appear to be dependent on hydrological environmental variables. In the new sprat-dominated system zooplankton numbers are negatively related to sprat abundance and the environmental controls of zooplankton abundance do not appear to be important. So why is this bad for cod recovery? Adult sprat compete with larval and juvenile cod for zooplankton and sprat consume cod eggs. The authors suggest that a good cod recovery plan will involve managing key aspects of the food web. This paper reveals how a whole food web or ecosystem approach is necessary for understanding population controls of important fisheries species.

M. Casini, J. Hjelm, J.-C. Molinero, J. Lovgren, M. Cardinale, V. Bartolino, A. Belgrano, G. Kornilovs (2009). Trophic cascades promote threshold-like shifts in pelagic marine ecosystems Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (1), 197-202 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0806649105