Category Archives: Uncategorized

Cinematica Animalia: The Ecology of a Movie Monster

As I’ve written on here before, scientific communication can be a tricky business. Finding novel ways to communicate research, or scientific ideas to the public is a process that takes creativity and focus. So with that in mind, along with fellow Ecology for the Masses author Adam Hasik and friend and veterinarian Dave, I’ve started the cinema/ecology/physiology themed podcast Cinematica Animalia.

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Finding the Key to Reef Shark Conservation

Reef accessibility impairs the protection of sharks (2018) Juhel et al., Journal of Applied Ecology 55

Species such as this Carribean reef shark have higher extinction risks than most fish. But how effective are our management efforts?

Species such as this Carribean reef shark have higher extinction risks than most fish. But how effective are our management efforts? (Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

The Crux

The importance of sharks goes well beyond what Jaws did to Hollywood, or one week in the USA each July. In any reef ecosystem, sharks perform a key functional role, exerting top-down pressure, stabilising food webs, and improving general ecosystem functioning. They’re also ‘charismatic’ species, meaning they’re easier to raise funding for, and bring money in through tourism. Yet pressure from fishing suggests that reef shark populations may be under threat, and with high body sizes and long lifespans, their populations are more sensitive than most to overfishing, making extinction risks higher.

Yet the lack of data on shark populations means that the effectiveness of the few existing management programs is largely untested. This paper looks at Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), areas in which national or international bodies prevent fishing or even entry, to see whether or not they are an effective conservation method for shark populations.

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Scared to Death

Fear and lethality in snowshoe hares: the deadly effects of non-consumptive predation risk (2018) MacLeod et al., Oikos 127(3)

Fear itself of a predator is enough to reduce populations of a snowshoe hare, show Macleod at al.

Fear itself of a predator is enough to reduce populations of a snowshoe hare, show Macleod at al. (Image Credit: Dave Doe, CC BY 2.0)

The Crux

When we think of a predator-prey relationship, many colorful examples of charismatic animals come to mind: the lion and the wildebeest, the orca and the seal, the owl and the mouse. We think of these organisms locked in an endless battle, with one needing to catch and eat, the other to escape and live. While these are definitely interesting and important aspects of the predator-prey relationship, prey species need to worry about more than just being eaten. These “non-consumptive effects” play into what is called the Ecology of Fear.

This study was an attempt to show that the perceived risk of predation itself was enough to reduce survival in prey species. Unlike previous studies on this question, MacLeod et al. were the first to conclusively show this effect in mammals.

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Getting Better May Get You Eaten

Immune response increases predation risk (2012) Otti et al., Evolution 66

Fighting off an infection can use up valuable energy, and also change behaviour, which can lead to enhanced risk of predation

Fighting off an infection can use up valuable energy, and also change behaviour, which can lead to enhanced risk of predation (Image Credit: Gilles San Martin, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Crux

Parasites and diseases cause a lot of problems for their hosts, stealing resources like blood, food and energy. But fighting off parasites is also a costly process, so hosts have to walk the thin line between using just enough resources to fight off the parasite and using too many, leaving them with nothing. The amount a host invests in their immune response will depend on the specific environment that they live in. For example, in an environment where resources are plentiful, a host may decide that it is worth shaking off a parasite or disease. In areas where resources aren’t, they may choose to save energy.

Introducing predation to a situation further complicates things. Having a lot of predators around naturally means energy conservation becomes even more important. This study examines the risk of predation for an organism that is fighting off an infection.

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