Predicting how climate change threatens the prey base of Arctic marine predators, Florko et al., 2021 Ecology Letters. https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.13866
Image credit: Kingfisher, CC BY-SA 3.0
We are all (unfortunately) very familiar with the effects of climate change on arctic ecosystems. Horrifying images of polar bears on small blocks of ice and the shrinking polar ice caps are but two of the many results of a warming climate, yet a great deal of the work in the realm has focused on the the charismatic, apex species (like the aforementioned polar bear). These are obviously important things to consider, but it is also necessary to look into the effects of climate change on the lower positions within food webs, as any change to these organisms and processes are likely to cascade upwards to effect the upper trophic levels (like our friend the polar bear).
Hudson Bay in North America is one such area impacted by our warming climate. Due to the changes in temperatures, the energy flowing through ecosystems has shifted away from away from species living in the ice and on the bottom. As a result pelagic (free-swimming) species are favored over benthic species (those living on the bottom of the bay), which alters the rest of the food web itself. Specifically, the fish that feed on pelagic species are increasing, while those that feed on benthic species are decreasing. Today’s authors wanted to understand how these changes in fish numbers are will affect Arctic predators, namely the ringed seal (Pusa hispida).
Bowler et al. (2020) Impacts of predator-mediated interactions along a climatic gradient on the population dynamics of an alpine bird. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 287, https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2020.2653.
Whether or not a species will survive in an area can usually be broken down into two broad categories: how suitable the environmental characteristics of that area are (temperature, elevation, rainfall), and how it interacts with the other species found nearby. Early ecological theory predicted that in harsh environments, how a species interacts with other species wouldn’t matter as much, and would only come into play when the area was easier for the species to inhabit.
Yet more modern work often contradicts this theory. For instance, the Alternative Prey Hypothesis (APH) suggests that in areas where there are relatively few species as a result of harsh climates, interactions between those few species will be relatively strong. For example, if a prey species declines one year, then its usual predator must find an alternative prey species. This creates an indirect interaction between the two prey species, which is particularly strong in harsh environments where there aren’t other species around.
Image Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped
Are polar bear habitat resource selection functions developed from 1985-1995 data still useful? (2019) Durner et. al, Ecology and Evolution, https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5401
Ecologists often attempt to predict where species are using the spread of the resources that the species depends upon. This is done because often it’s simply easier to monitor the resources than the species. Resource selection functions (RSFs) are a tool which use the likelihood of a resource being used to predict a species distribution. However, if the landscape the resource is found in changes drastically, a resource selection function may start to be less useful.
In the early 2000s, using data collected in the 80s and 90s, US scientists developed RSFs for polar bears, a species which has regrettably become the poster child for the survival of the Arctic ecosystem. Even back then, the bears’ preferred habitat was receding. Now, with human-driven climate change severely reducing sea ice and markedly altering the bears’ habitat, this week’s authors wanted to know how well those RSFs work nowadays.
Image Credit: Christopher Michel, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped, Brightened
It’s an image that is ubiquitous in the media when the words ‘climate change’ pop up. The lone polar bear, drifting through the sea on a single ice floe. It is an effective image, evoking emotions like pity, loneliness and general despair for the plight of what has become the flagship species of what seems like the entire Arctic. But is associating the health of an entire ecosystem with one species useful, or dangerous?
Image Credit: Liliann Eidem, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped
The concept of interdisciplinarity (essentially, scientists from different backgrounds working together to solve scientific questions) has played a major role in the development of ecology, and science in general, in the last few decades. As odd as it sounds, working across disciplines, even those as closely related as population and behavioural ecology, wasn’t a regular occurrence. Papers with one author were fairly commonplace.
Image Credit: Hans, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped
Last Monday, I wrote about how climate change can facilitate the spread of non-native and invasive species. Today, we look at a species that whilst problematic now, could spread further throughout Norwegian waters as temperatures rise.
The last time we looked at an ocean-dweller in this series, we saw that while some species may not be great for ecosystems, they can provide an obvious benefit to other aspects of the region, in this case the fishing industry. The Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) was also introduced intentionally for cultivation and is now on the verge of becoming a major problem in Norwegian waters.