Navigation Links
Whales as ecosystem engineers
Date:7/3/2014

"Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part," wrote Herman Melville in Moby Dick. Today, we no longer dread whales, but their subtlety remains. "For a long time, whales have been considered too rare to make much of a difference in the oceans," notes University of Vermont conservation biologist Joe Roman. That was a mistake.

In a new paper, Roman and a team of biologists have tallied several decades of research on whales from around the world; it shows that whales, in fact, make a huge differencethey have a powerful and positive influence on the function of oceans, global carbon storage, and the health of commercial fisheries. "The decline in great whale numbers, estimated to be at least 66% and perhaps as high as 90%, has likely altered the structure and function of the oceans," Roman and his colleagues write in the July 3, 2014, online edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, " but recovery is possible and in many cases is already underway."

"The continued recovery of great whales may help to buffer marine ecosystems from destabilizing stresses," the team of scientists writes. This recovered role may be especially important as climate change threatens ocean ecosystems with rising temperatures and acidification. "As long-lived species, they enhance the predictability and stability of marine ecosystems," Roman said.

Baleen and sperm whales, known collectively as the "great whales," include the largest animals to have ever lived on Earth. With huge metabolic demandsand large populations before humans started hunting themgreat whales are the ocean's ecosystem engineers: they eat many fish and invertebrates, are themselves prey to other predators like killer whales, and distribute nutrients through the water. Even their carcasses, dropping to the seafloor, provide habitat for many species that only exist on these "whale falls." Commercial whaling dramatically reduced the biomass and abundance of great whales.

"As humpbacks, gray whales, sperm whales and other cetaceans recover from centuries of overhunting, we are beginning to see that they also play an important role in the ocean," Roman said. "Among their many ecological roles, whales recycle nutrients and enhance primary productivity in areas where they feed." They do this by feeding at depth and releasing fecal plumes near the surfacewhich supports plankton growtha remarkable process described as a "whale pump." Whales also move nutrients thousands of miles from productive feeding areas at high latitudes to calving areas at lower latitudes.

Sometimes, commercial fishermen have seen whales as competition. But this new paper summarizes a strong body of evidence that indicates the opposite can be true: whale recovery "could lead to higher rates of productivity in locations where whales aggregate to feed and give birth," supporting more robust fisheries.

As whales recover, there may be increased whale predation on aquaculture stocks and increased competitionreal or perceivedwith some commercial fisheries. But the new paper notes " a recent investigation of four coastal ecosystems has demonstrated the potential for large increases in whale abundance without major changes to existing food-web structures or substantial impacts on fishery production."

In death, whale carcasses store a remarkable amount of carbon in the deep sea and provide habitat and food for an amazing assortment of creatures that only live on these carcasses. "Dozens, possibly hundreds, of species depend on these whale falls in the deep sea," Roman notes.

"Our models show that the earliest human-caused extinctions in the sea may have been whale fall invertebrates, species that evolved and adapted to whale falls," Roman said, "These species would have disappeared before we had a chance to discover them."

Until recently, ocean scientists have lacked the ability to study and observe directly the functional roles of whales in marine ecosystems. Now with radio tagging and other technologies they can better understand these roles. "The focus of much marine ecological research has been on smaller organisms, such as algae and planktonic animals. These small organisms are essential to life in the sea, but they are not the whole story," Roman said.

New observations of whales will provide a more accurate understanding of historical population dynamics and "are likely to provide evidence of undervalued whale ecosystem services," note the ten scientists who co-authored this new paper, "this area of research will improve estimates of the benefitssome of which, no doubt, remain to be discoveredof an ocean repopulated by the great whales."


'/>"/>

Contact: Joshua Brown
joshua.e.brown@uvm.edu
802-656-3039
University of Vermont
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology news :

1. Notifying speeding mariners lowers ship speeds in areas with North Atlantic right whales
2. Panama saves whales and protects world trade
3. Whales hear us more than we realize
4. SU biologists use sound to identify breeding grounds of endangered whales
5. Whales, ships more common through Bering Strait
6. Whales and human-related activities overlap in African waters
7. New genomic study provides a glimpse of how whales could adapt to ocean
8. Research confirms bottom-feeding behavior of humpback whales
9. Bats and whales behave in surprisingly similar ways
10. Research reveals bottom feeding techniques of tagged humpback whales in Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary
11. Surprising underwater-sounds: Humpback whales also spend their winter in Antarctica
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
Whales as ecosystem engineers
(Date:6/2/2016)... The Department of Transport Management (DOTM) of ... Dollar project, for the , Supply and Delivery ... IT Infrastructure , to Decatur ... Identity Management Solutions. Numerous renowned international vendors participated in the ... was selected for the most compliant and innovative solution. The ...
(Date:6/1/2016)... June 1, 2016 Favorable Government ... Administration and Criminal Identification to Boost Global Biometrics System ... released TechSci Research report, " Global Biometrics Market ... Forecast and Opportunities, 2011 - 2021", the global biometrics ... 2021, on account of growing security concerns across various ...
(Date:5/16/2016)... May 16, 2016   EyeLock LLC , a ... the opening of an IoT Center of Excellence in ... expand the development of embedded iris biometric applications. ... of convenience and security with unmatched biometric accuracy, making ... aside from DNA. EyeLock,s platform uses video technology to ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... UAS LifeSciences, ... launch of their brand, UP4™ Probiotics, into Target stores nationwide. The company, which ... to add Target to its list of well-respected retailers. This list includes such ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... 2016 A person commits a crime, and the ... track the criminal down. An outbreak of foodborne ... Administration (FDA) uses DNA evidence to track down the bacteria ... far-fetched? It,s not. The FDA has increasingly used a complex, ... foodborne illnesses. Put as simply as possible, whole genome sequencing ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) is pleased to announce 24 new Young Investigator ... Members of the Class of 2016 were selected from a pool of 128 ... About the Class of 2016 PCF Young Investigators ... ... ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... Supplyframe, the Industry Network for ... Design Lab . Located in Pasadena, Calif., the Design Lab’s mission is to ... are designed, built and brought to market. , The Design Lab is Supplyframe’s ...
Breaking Biology Technology: