Tag Archives: selection

Monitoring Freshwater Populations in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Radiation can have extremely negative effects on an individual. But is it as easy to measure its effects on an entire population? (Image Credit: Hnapel, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped)

Variation in chronic radiation exposure does not drive life history divergence among Daphnia populations across the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (2019) Goodman et al., Ecology and Evolution, DOI: 10.1002/ece3.4931

The Crux

As anyone who has recently watched HBO’s Chernobyl can tell you, large doses of radiation are capable of doing some pretty serious damage to an organism. But whilst examining the effect of radiation on an individual might be simple, monitoring those effects on a population can be difficult. Whilst radiation negatively effects fitness, it can also help individuals with higher radiation tolerance to reproduce and dominate within the population of a single species, making it difficult to monitor the exact effects of radiation on that population. If a population is filled with only those who were strong enough to survive, you don’t get an idea of the variation in the radiation’s effects.

This week’s researchers tried to break through that problem by looking at different populations of a water flea in Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone (CEZ) – the area still barred from entry in eastern Europe.

What They Did

The researchers sampled populations of the water flea Daphnia pulex (see below) from 8 lakes within the CEZ, all of which had experienced different doses of radiation since the Chernobyl disaster. Information on how much radiation those lakes were subject to was taken from Ukraine’s radiation databases and water samples collected at the site. The 38 types of Daphnia from the 8 lakes were then transported back to a laboratory and bred for three generations. The survival and reproductive success of this third generation was then modelled against radiation dose.

Did You Know: Daphnia as Study Organisms

Some species are frequently used across different ecological disciplines as model organisms. One example is the genus Daphnia, a genus of water fleas. They have a short life cycle, and can reproduce asexually. This means that scientists have the opportunity to disentangle environmental effects on populations of genetically similar individuals, as well as between populations of different genetic backgrounds.

What They Found

Whilst reproductive success and survival varied between the populations of Daphnia at different lakes, this did not seem to occur as a result of radiation dose. Radiation did not have a pronounced effect on any fitness variable.



The water flea Daphnia, here used to test the effects of radiation on populations (Image Credit: Paul Hebert, CC BY 2.5)

Sample size is of course an issue here. Only having 8 lakes to compare the effects of radiation on populations was always going to make an effect of radiation dose hard to find. It was made more difficult by the fact that the effects of one lake were significantly different to the others, skewing results considerably. This is of course no fault of the authors, and hopefully technology in the future will allow us to expand the data used in these projects.

So What?

It’s important to note here that these results do not necessarily mean that radiation has no effect on Daphnia populations. Radiation is known to have negative effects on individual fitness, so what this study could tell us is that we need to view radiation as an environmental process which acts in concert with a variety of other biotic factors. Perhaps a study which takes into account further environmental variables and more lake populations would be able to further advance the work done in this paper.

To Blend in or Stand Out?

Body coloration of an animal can be useful for not only attracting prey, but also avoiding being eaten. One important question is whether or not this coloration can simultaneously serve both purposes? (Image Credit: Chen-Pan Liao, CC BY-SA 3.0).

Multifunctionality of an arthropod predator’s body coloration (2019) Liao et al., Functional Ecology, https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.13326

The Crux

One topic that has interested ecologists for decades is that of animal body coloration, and what function that coloration can serve for the animal. Despite this fascination and the work that has been done to study this aspect of animal biology, the actual mechanisms driving the evolution and maintenance of body color are not well understood. Many different aspects of an organism’s life can shape and affect body color, such as avoiding predators, attracting mates, and whatever resources an organism has available to create specific colors. In addition, many of these aspects often compete with one another, such that a color that is good for attracting mates may also make you more easily-spotted by a predator.

Spiders provide an excellent system in which to study the evolutionary significance of body colors, as previous work has shown that body color affects mate attraction, predator avoidance, and prey attraction. The authors of today’s study wanted to know if these complex color patterns could serve more than one function in the spider’s life.
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Hvorfor er dyr hvor de er?

Image Credit: Endre Gruner Ofstad, CC BY-SA 2.0

Guest post by Endre Grüner Ofstad. English version here.

Use, selection, and home range properties: complex patterns of individual habitat utilization (2019) Endre Ofstad et al., Ecosphere, 10(4), https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.2695

Det essensielle

Stedene man finner dyr omtales gjerne som dyrets habitat. Habitat er et relativt vagt begrep. Hvor individ oppholder er som regel et utfall av en rekke vurderinger: hvor finner en mat, hvor unngår man rovdyr og hvor finner man noen å parre seg. Individ avveier blant disse for å maksimere hvor mange avkom de kan tilføre fremtidige generasjoner (også kalt for ‘fitness’).

Når vi skal vurdere hvilke habitat dyr befinner seg i så jobber vi som regel med habitatseleksjon. Habitatseleksjon er hvor mye et habitat blir brukt i forhold til hvor tilgjengelig det er, dvs. hva er den relative sannsynligheten for at et dyr vil bruke et habitat hvis det får muligheten. Hvor mye tid et individ velger å bruke (eller tettheten av individ) i et habitat er som regel en god indikator på hvor viktig et gitt habitat er. Habitatseleksjon blir derfor ofte brukt til å identifisere hvilke habitat forvaltningen bør iverksette tiltak.

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Why are animals where they are?

Guest post by Endre Grüner Ofstad. Norwegian version available here.

Use, selection, and home range properties: complex patterns of individual habitat utilization (2019) Endre Ofstad et al., Ecosphere, 10(4), https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.2695

The Crux

The areas in which we find an animal is often called its ‘habitat’. Yet it’s a fairly ambiguous term. Where animals are found is usually the outcome of a range of considerations, primarily foraging, predator avoidance and mating opportunities. Animals trade-off among these in order to maximise their contribution to future generations (i.e. ‘fitness’).

When considering which habitats we most likely find animals one often works with habitat selection. Habitat selection is how much a certain habitat type is used compared to its availability, i.e. what is the relative probability that an animal will use a given habitat upon encounter. The amount of time an individual spends (or density of individuals) in a habitat is usually a good proxy for the importance the habitat to the animals. Therefore we often use this to evaluate which areas to target for management and conservation efforts.

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Blending In

In nature, it often pays to blend in to your background, especially if you’re a prey species like the deer mice used in this study. (Image Credit: David Cappaert, CC BY 2.0)

Linking a mutation to survival in wild mice (2018) Barret et al. Science, 363, p. 499-504.

The Crux

A big part of ecological studies involves investigating how certain traits or behaviors work (adapted) or don’t work (maladapted) in a specific environment, while scientists who study genetics may investigate specific parts of the DNA that are under selection for specific values of a given trait. Surprisingly, not many studies investigate these two aspects of natural selection simultaneously, instead they will attribute selection to a specific trait value without knowing the genetic mechanisms behind it.

The authors of this study used a well-studied model system of deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) to link these two aspects of ecology together, tying a mutation in a gene that codes for coat color into selection in the wild. The study took place in the Sand Hills of Nebraska, a relatively young region (in geological terms) where these mice are expected to have recently adapted to the environment due to strong selection for traits that promote their survival.

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Too Many Fish on the Sea Floor

When fish like this sand goby aggregate, the density of their nests can often have a big impact on their success
When fish like this goby aggregate, the density of their nests can often have a big impact on their success (Image Credit: Laszlo Ilyes, CC BY 2.0)
Spatial and temporal patterns of nest distribution influence sexual selection in a marine fish (2018) Wong et al., Oikos, doi: 10.1111/oik.05058

The Crux

When we monitor the fluctuations of a population, we often look at vital rates, a huge part of which is reproductive success. The success that males have in siring offspring can be hugely influenced by the density of a population, particularly when it comes to a breeding ground.

Larger males will often outcompete smaller males on such grounds, however in many species these males will often reach reproductive limits, at which point smaller males can benefit. Smaller males may also fare better in less dense populations, where females lack other individuals to compare them to. Our study today looks at variations in reproductive success of a nest-breeding fish species over two levels of density.

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