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Publications 2014

Authors in bold are/were staff or students of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science and its founding organization, the Pew Institute for Ocean Science.


Rountos, K.J., Tang, Y.Z., Cerrato, R.M., Gobler, C.J., Pikitch, E.K. 2014. Toxicity of the harmful dinoflagellate Cochlodinium polykrikoides to early life stages of three estuarine forage fish. Marine Ecology Progress Series 505.

Abstract

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) caused by the dinoflagellate Cochlodinium polykrikoides have increased in geographic extent, frequency, and duration in coastal areas worldwide. These blooms have negatively impacted many coastal fisheries, causing mass mortalities of both wild and farmed fish. Forage fish species may be particularly susceptible to HABs as they feed on plankton and are highly abundant in coastal ecosystems where these blooms occur. While mortalities associated with HABs have been well documented for juvenile and adult fish, the potential impacts to early life stages (i.e. embryos and eleutheroembryos) have not been explored. We conducted a series of toxicity experiments using a clonal laboratory culture of C. polykrikoides and 3 forage fish species (Atlantic silverside Menidia menidia, inland silverside M. beryllina, and sheepshead minnow Cyprinodon variegatus) all common on the US East Coast. Our experiments demonstrated that C. polykrikoides caused mortalities in both embryos and eleutheroembryos, but that sensitivity to acute toxicity differed among fish species (M. beryllina > M. menidia > C. variegatus) and among life stages (eleutheroembryos > embryos). Although embryos were somewhat resistant to C. polykrikoides biotoxins until they hatched, once they hatched, they experienced rapid mortality and impaired swimming ability. By testing ecologically relevant exposure times to C. polykrikoides, we found that eleutheroembryos can become incapacitated relatively quickly (i.e. within hours), and that surviving fish could recover swimming ability following removal from C. polykrikoides exposure. This research provides the first evidence of sublethal impacts on fish exposed to C. polykrikoides, and advances understanding of the potential ecosystem impacts of this harmful alga.

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Feldheim, K.A., Gruber, S.H., DiBattista, J.D., Babcock, E.A., Kessel, S.T., Hendry, A.P., Pikitch, E.K., Ashley, M.V., Chapman, D.D. 2014. Two decades of genetic profiling yields first evidence of natal philopatry and long-term fidelity to parturition sites in sharks. Molecular Ecology 23 (1).

Abstract

Sharks are a globally threatened group of marine fishes that often breed in their natal region of origin. There has even been speculation that female sharks return to their exact birthplace to breed ('natal philopatry'), which would have important conservation implications. Genetic profiling of lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) from 20 consecutive cohorts (1993–2012) at Bimini, Bahamas, showed that certain females faithfully gave birth at this site for nearly two decades. At least six females born in the 1993–1997 cohorts returned to give birth 14–17 years later, providing the first direct evidence of natal philopatry in the chondrichthyans. Long-term fidelity to specific nursery sites coupled with natal philopatry highlights the merits of emerging spatial and local conservation efforts for these threatened predators.

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Rountos. K.J. 2014. Contributions of forage fish species to marine ecosystems and anthropogenic threats to their conservation. Dissertation.

Abstract

Forage fish are small pelagic species (e.g. sardine, anchovy, krill, etc.) that are generally short-lived and exhibit schooling or shoaling behavior. Although these species were once thought to be inexhaustible, they are prone to collapses due to oceanographic factors and overexploitation from fisheries. In addition, the effects of climate change, habitat destruction, pollutants, and harmful algal blooms threaten their conservation. Prior to the work described in this dissertation, no global assessment of the ecological and economic importance of these species had been conducted, despite the fact that these species represent some of the largest fisheries in the world and are prey for many marine predators, including seabirds, marine mammals, and large predatory fish. This dissertation explored the global importance of forage fish species to marine ecosystems and fisheries and elucidated the threats posed from the geographically expanding ichthyotoxic dinoflagellate, Cochlodinium polykrikoides. Using a synthesis of ecosystem models (Ecopath), forage fish were found to contribute a total of $16.9 billion USD to global fisheries value annually. While the global catch value of forage fisheries was $5.6 billion, fisheries supported by forage fish were more than twice as valuable ($11.3 billion). Forage fish also made significant contributions to marine predators, accounting for large fractions of the diets of seabirds, marine mammals and large predatory fish. For example, the median forage fish diet of seabirds in upwelling ecosystems was estimated at 89%. Other indices computed revealed that these predators: 1) often selected forage fish as their most preferred prey item, 2) commonly exhibited specialized feeding strategies, and 3) targeted similar trophic levels of prey as forage fisheries. Toxicity experiments conducted with C. polykrikoides, using three forage species common to the US East Coast, revealed: 1) significant mortalities occurred in both exposed embryos and eleutheroembryos, but that sensitivity differed among fish species and life stages, 2) the first evidence of sublethal impacts to fish, as exposed eleutheroembryos lost and regained their swimming ability following short-term exposures, and 3) the first assessment of behavioral toxicity in larvae following sublethal exposures. Future research should clarify these roles and continue to examine threats to forage fish populations.

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Commito, J.A., Commito, A.E., Platt, R.V., Grupe, B.M., Dow Piniak, W.E., Gownaris, N.J., Reeves, K.A., Vissichelli, A.M. 2014. Recruitment facilitation and spatial pattern formation in soft-bottom mussel beds. Ecosphere 5(12).

Abstract

Mussels (Mytilus edulis) build massive, spatially complex, biogenic structures that alter the biotic and abiotic environment and provide a variety of ecosystem services. Unlike rocky shores, where mussels can attach to the primary substrate, soft sediments are unsuitable for mussel attachment. We used a simple lattice model, field sampling, and field and laboratory experiments to examine facilitation of recruitment (i.e., preferential larval, juvenile, and adult attachment to mussel biogenic structure) and its role in the development of power-law spatial patterns observed in Maine, USA, soft-bottom mussel beds. The model demonstrated that recruitment facilitation produces power-law spatial structure similar to that in natural beds. Field results provided strong evidence for facilitation of recruitment to other mussels—they do not simply map onto a hard-substrate template of gravel and shell hash. Mussels were spatially decoupled from non-mussel hard substrates to which they can potentially recruit. Recent larval recruits were positively correlated with adult mussels, but not with other hard substrates. Mussels made byssal thread attachments to other mussels in much higher proportions than to other hard substrates. In a field experiment, mussel recruitment was highest to live mussels, followed by mussel shell hash and gravel, with almost no recruitment to muddy sand. In a laboratory experiment, evenly dispersed mussels rapidly self-organized into power-law clusters similar to those observed in nature. Collectively, the results indicate that facilitation of recruitment to existing mussels plays a major role in soft-bottom spatial pattern development. The interaction between large-scale resource availability (hard substrate) and local-scale recruitment facilitation may be responsible for creating complex power-law spatial structure in soft-bottom mussel beds.

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