Arxiu d'etiquetes: invasive species

Known the Asian hornet or ‘assassin hornet’ in 5 steps

In recent years, reports of invasive species entering the Iberian Peninsula have grown at an alarming rate. One of the most recent cases is that of the Asian hornet, also known as the yellow-legged hornet and dramatically called ‘assassin hornet’, which is well-stablished in northern regions of the Iberian Peninsula and which has recently been confirmed to nest in the very center of Barcelona.

What do we know about this species? Why is it known as the ‘assassin hornet’?

1. Where does it come from and how did it get here?

The Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) is a social wasp native to the Southeast Asia. It was for the first time recorded in Europe in 2004, at southeast France, where it is currently well-spread. According to most of sources, it is believed that some founding queens accidentally arrived France inside boxes of pottery from China.

Some associations of beekeepers from the Basque Country confirmed the presence of the Asian hornet in the Iberian Peninsula in 2010. From that moment on, the Asian hornet started spreading toward other regions: it was recorded in Galicia in 2011, in Northern Catalonia and in some areas of Aragon in 2012, in some areas of La Rioja and Cantabria in 2014 and in Mallorca, in 2015.

Dynamic map by José Luis Ordóñez – CREAF

Meanwhile, this species spread toward Italy, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and, occasionally, the United Kingdom. It presence in Japan and Korea, where it is an invasive species too, was confirmed some years before.

It was recorded for the first time in Catalonia in its northern comarques (‘counties’), specifically in Alt Empordà, and in 2015 almost 100 nests of this species had already been recorded. Nowadays, the Asian hornet is well-spread in Girona and Barcelona provinces.

On July 13th of this year (2018), the Generalitat de Catalunya (Government of Catalonia) confirmed the first record of an Asian hornet nest located in the very center of Barcelona city, close to one of the main buildings of the University of Barcelona; a few days before, it had also been detected in Vallès Oriental and Baix Llobregat.

2. How can we identify it?

The Asian hornet size varies between 2 and 3.5 cm, approximately. Queens and workers have a similar morphology except for their size, being workers smaller than queens.

This species can be recognized by the following morphological traits:

  • Thorax entirely black.
  • Abdomen mainly black except for its 4th segment, which is yellow.
  • Anterior half of legs, black; posterior half, yellow.
  • Upper part of head, black; face reddish yellow.

Dorsal and ventral view of Vespa velutina. Picture by Didier Descouens, Muséum de Toulouse, CC 3.0.

If you think you have found an Asian hornet and meant to notify authorities, first of all make sure it is the correct species. This is of special importance as some native species like the European hornet (Vespa crabro) are usually confused with its invasive relative, thus leading to misidentifications and removings of native nests.

Vespa crabro. Picture by Ernie, CC 3.0.

3. Why is it also called ‘assassin hornet’?

The Asian hornet is neither more dangerous, venomous nor aggressive than other European wasps. So, why is it dramatically called ‘assassin hornet’?

Larvae of this species feed on honeybees caught by adult hornets. Honeybees usually represent more than 80% of their diet, while the remaining percentage is compound of other arthropods. Adult hornets fly over hives and hunt the most exposed honeybees, even at flight. A single hornet can hunt between 25 and 50 honeybees per day. Hornets usually quarter them and get only the thorax, which is the most nutritious part.

In Asia, some honeybees have developed surprising defensive mechanisms to fight against their predators, like forming swarms around hornets to cause them a heat shock.

Take a look to this video to known some more about this strategy (caso of Japanese honeybees and hornets):

On the contrary, European honeybees have different defensive strategies that seem to be less effective against invasive hornets than they are against the European ones, which are also less ravenous their Asiatic relatives and their nests, smaller. In addition, the absence of natural predators that help to control their populations makes their spreading even more easier.

Several associations of both beekeepers and scientists from Europe have been denouncing this situation for years, since this invasive species is causing severe damages to both the economy (honey and crop production) and the environment (loss of wildlife -insects and plants- biodiversity) due to the decrease in wild and domestic honeybees.

4. How do their nests look like and what I have to do if I find one?

Asian hornets usually make their nests far from the ground, on the top of trees (unlike the European hornets, which never construct their nest on trees at great highs); rarely, nests can be found on buildings near non-perturbated areas or in the ground. Nests are spherical-shaped, have a continuous growth, a single opening in their superior third from which internal cells cannot be appreciated (in European hornet’s nests, the opening is in its inferior part and internal cells can be observed through it) and can reach up to 1 m height and 80 cm diameter. Nests are made by chewed and mixed wood fibers, leaves and saliva.

Nest of Asian hornet. Picture by Fredciel, CC 3.0.

If you find an Asian hornet nest, be careful and don’t hurry: don’t get to close to it (it is recommended to stay at least 5m far from the nest), observe and study the nest and observe if there are adults overflying it. If you find a dead specimen, you can try to identify it (REMEMBER: always staying far from the nest!). Anyway, the most recommendable thing is to be careful and call the authorities (in Spain, to the emergency phone number: 112).

5. There are preventive and management measures?

Currently, preventive and management measures proposed are the following:

  • Protocols for a more efficient detection of nests.
  • Early detection of the hornet by installing traps.
  • Constitution of an efficient communication net to provide information of the presence of this species between regions.
  • Removal of nests.
  • Capture of queens.
  • Improving the habitat quality to minimize the settlement of the Asian hornet and enhacing the settlement of native bees.
  • Study the possible introduction of natural enemies.

In the following link, you can download the PDF (in Spanish) made by the Spanish Government (2014) where these and more strategies are widely explained.

Citizen participation is a key point when fighting against the spreading of an invasive species; the same happens with the Asian hornet. Some associations of beekeepers, like the Galician Beekeeping Association (Asociación Gallega de Apicultura, AGA) and its campaign Stop Vespa Velutina, give educational conferences about this species and place traps to control their populations. Also, some students of the University of the Balear Islands have developed a mobile app to inform about the expansion of the Asian hornet.

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Although knowledge of this species has been improved, there is still much work to be done. We will see how its populations evolve in the coming years.

Main picture by Danel Solabarrieta on Flickr, CC 2.0.

 

The humans have done it again: the Anthropocene, another shameful achievement for mankind

Science books have to be modified again. Joining other famous geological epochs of the Cambrian, Jurassic or Pleistocene another one must be added from now: the Anthropocene. On August 2016 a group of experts confirmed what everyone suspected: mankind have been so interventionist in terrestrial processes that the natural cycle have changed irretrievably. We have already suffering the consequences, and the human footprint on our planet will be present until after our demise

INTRODUCTION

The history of the modern man, Homo sapiens sapiens, was not easy in the beginning. It is believed that we appeared on the Middle Paleolithic, about 200,000 years ago in Africa. In those days humans were already good hunters, but also good preys, and although the species was thriving and spreading across the planet, this was done slowly and always influenced by severe climate changes. It took 100,000 years to leave Africa and anothers 80,000 to reach America. During all that time and until almost the present day, humans being was at the mercy of the Earth and its whims, which decided at will the fate of our ancestors. However, the Ice Age ended, the Holocene began and thereby unprecedented technological advancement. The industrial revolution definitely transformed humans and the way they interact with the world, which suffered the devastating consequences of an ambitious and unaware species about their enormous global influence.

mamut
Humans have been nomadic most of their existence, with a strong dependence on environmental conditions that conditioned their prey. With the agriculture and lifestock the first villages were created, leading to the modern style. Source: Return of Kings.

WHAT IS A GEOLOGICAL TIME AND HOW IT IS POSSIBLE TO ENTER AND LEAVE IT?

At first glance, it may seem a mere syntactical question or a whim of geologists. However, designate a geological time is important when defining long periods of time sharing similar environmental conditions. Normally, a geological period usually lasts no less than 2 million years, and the fossil record is used to find out a major discontinuity in the typical pattern of the biota of that actual period. Therefore, an epoch tend to finish when an abrupt climate change occur (the Pleistocene ends with the last of the great glaciations), leading to changes in the biota (the meteorite that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs caused the end of the Cretaceous period). However, these abrupt changes must be occur globally and in a short space of time to really be considered as a different geological epoch.

geological-time-scale
Earth is divided into periods whichare divided into geological epochs. These periods are marked by relatively stable and / or with a characteristic biota. These epochs are usually finished by events that involve drastic changes for living organisms on a global scale. Source: philipmarshall.net.

THE ANTHROPOCENE

The term is not new (it was used for the first time in the mid XIX century during the industrial revolution) but regained importance in early 2000, thanks to Paul Crutzen. This chemist, together with other colleagues, discovered the compounds that were destroying the ozone layer, which makes him to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In his speech, he had special interest in stressing that the Holocene “was over forever” to make way for the Anthropocene, the age of humans. His article in Nature about the Anthropocene was a reference for many scientists working on projects about environmental problems in the Anthropocene epoche. On August 29, 2016, the expert group of the Anthropocene voted at the International Geological Congress (IGC) to formally establish the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch.

Grinding Shop
The industrial revolution changed the course of Earth forever. Vast amounts of fossil fuels were burned and their products emitted into the atmosphere. The production system took a turn, giving priority to production and thereby to make unprecedented use of the planet’s resources. In the photo, British workers in a factory of agricultural products in 1928. Source: Daily mail.

BUT, WHY ARE WE IN THE ANTHROPOCENE?

As we mentioned before, to change the geological epoch it has to be evident that environmental conditions are changing on a global scale. And that is what is happening since the early 50s of the last century, date in which researchers have officially marked the beginning of the Anthropocene. In this Science article, researchers from around the world gathered geological evidence showing with certainty that mankind has changed the planet severely and it should already talk about another geological era. The researchers also pointed to the products of the many atomic tests of the 50s as the starting point of the Anthropocene.

mushroom-cloud-of-first-hydrogen-bomb-test
The nuclear tests of the 50s, like this one in which the first hydrogen bomb (Ivy Mike) was tested, caused the release of large amounts of radioactive materials into the atmosphere. These particles were settled and that has allowed researchers to have evidence in order to demonstrate the impact of human actions on a global scale. Source: CBC.

EVIDENCE OF THE ANTHROPOCENE

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, more than two centuries ago, numerous anthropogenic deposits have been accumulated in the earth’s crust, from new minerals and rocks to aluminum, cement and petroleum products such as plastics. Just after these lines, we show the main evidence put forward by researchers to justify the change of epoch:

High levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), plastics, fertilizers and pesticides in sediments. The burning of oil, coal and other wood products are the source of large amounts of PAHs in the atmosphere, that they just finally end settling in the earth’s crust and living things.Referring to fertilizers, little abundant nutrients in the soil such as nitrogen and phosphorous have doubled in the last century due to the increasing number of crops, many of which following the intensive model to maximize production. Moreover, plastics are already present worldwide. Its high resistance to degradation prevents natural recycling, which causes large quantities to deposit and, especially, to end in the sea, where there are authentic plastic islands, as the Great Pacific garbage patch .

plastics
Plastic is the most widely-product made from oil on Earth. Its impact on the environment is one of the most serious at present, and  global sedimentation leaves traces of our presence until thousands of years after our disappearance. Source: The Guardian.

Radioactive elements of nuclear tests. The detonation of the atomic bomb called Trinity in 1945 in New Mexico (USA), was followed by a long list of other nuclear tests during the Cold War. As a result, large amounts of carbon-14 and plutonium-239, among other molecules, were released into the atmosphere and sedimented years later in many parts of the globe, constituting a proof of the great human impact on Earth.

sediment
This core, extracted by the geologists that have determined that we are in a new era, shows the accumulation of human origin material in the sediments of a lake in Greenland. In it was found pesticides, radioactive nitrogen, heavy metals, increases in the concentration of greenhouse gases and plastics. Source: Science.

High concentrations of CO2 and CH4 in the atmosphere. From 1850 and especially in the following decades, the levels of these gases in the atmosphere broke with the typical pattern of the Holocene, getting itself to achieve, in our century, 400 ppm (parts per million) of CO2, an increase of more of 150 points from the pre-industrial situation. This increase in atmospheric CO2 has a direct impact on the temperature of the Earth. It is believed that the global temperature has increased by around 1 ° C since 1900, and will increase between 1.5 and 3.5 ° C by the year 2100.

aumento-co2
This chart shows the unprecedented increase in CO2, methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. Although CO2 is the best known gas and which has the greatest impact on a large scale, the other two gases have greater power to limit heat dissipation into space. The increase of these gases is closely related to the increase of global temperature. Source: CSIRO.

The increase of the ratio of extinction of living organisms in all parts of the world as a result of human activities. Since 1500 the extinction of species by humans has increased, but is from the XIX century onwards when the extinctions are present in the entire planet. The distribution of species has been disrupted due to human activities such as agriculture and deforestation and the introduction of invasive species, causing changes in the habits of native species and often come to displace and even to extinguish. This unprecedented high extinction ratio is considered by many people as an unmistakable symbol that we are in front of the sixth mass extinction on Earth.

ratio-extincion
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the rate of extinction of vertebrates is 100 times greater than in the past. At this rate, it is estimated that in the following centuries the number of extinct species will reach 75% of the existing ones. The dotted black line in this graph shows the rate of pre-industrialization extinction, while others refer to the cumulative percentage of extinct species since 1500. Source: Science.

FUTURE

Whatever the fate of humanity and future actions undertaken to mitigate climate change, what is clear is that the human footprint will remain indelible in the earth’s surface for millions of years, similar to what occurred after the Permian or Cretaceous mass extincion. The strata will show the follies and excesses carried out by us, perhaps as a warning for the following species that dares to relieve humanity of its status as the dominant species.

REFERENCES

Ricard-anglès

 

The living space of organisms

We all have our own living space, the place where we feel comfortable, like we were at home. We also have our routines, habits and that list of preferences that make us unique. Each of us, ultimately, have our own ecological niche, an extensive concept for each species that share the Earth with us. From it comes an important ecological processes such as competition or speciation, a key concepts for understanding the assembly and dynamics of natural ecosystems.

INTRODUCTION

When you are asked how you would describe close people, the first thing that comes to your mind is their way of being when you’re with them and what they loves to do. We know what is the first thing they always ask in a restaurant, what annoys them, what sites they like to frequent, what they like to do when they have free time and even how they behave when they like someone. If we have also lived with them, we could guess almost their daily routine since they wake up until they go to bed. Although we do not always have the same behaviour, there are many traits, hobbies and routines that characterize and differentiate us. Each of us have our comfort zone, our hobbies, food preferences and people with whom we love spending our free time.

7852026050_3fd72271f8_b
The dietary preferences of each of us and our routines and hobbies serve as a comparison to illustrate the diversity of ecological niches in the natural world. Source: Flickr, George Redgrave.

THE ECOLOGICAL NICHE OF A SPECIES

This “living space” that all of us have and in which we feel identified, is also comparable to the ecological niche of the organisms. The ecological niche of a species is a concept that always has been presented us as the “occupation”, “profession” or “work” that an organism carries up in the place where it lives (Wikipedia or CONICET), but the definition includes more than that. Hutchinson (1957) defined it as: ” n-dimensional hypervolume, where the dimensions are environmental conditions and resources, that define the requirements of a species to persist over time.” Despite the confusing definition, it is interested to point out the term “n-dimensional” as the ecological niche is based on this idea. An ecological niche is nothing more than all those multidimensional species requirements. In other words, the ecological niche of a species would be everything that involve the species and make it to prosper and survive where it is. Refers, ultimately, to all those variables that affect them in their daily lives, both biological variables -the contact with other species- and the physical and chemical ones-the climate and the habitat where they live-. An ecological niche of a species would be the spectrum of food it eats or can consume, the time of the day in which it is active to perform its functions, the time of the year and the way it carries out the reproduction, the predators and preys, the habitat it tolerates and all those physical and chemical factors that allow this species to remain viable.

warblers
These 5 species of warblers of North America seem to occupy the same habitat (the fir), but actually not. The truth is that each warbler occupies a different position in the tree. Source: Biology forums.

To give an illustrative example, let us place ourselves in the African savannah. The main grazing ungulates and those which perform mass migrations are compound by zebras, wildebeest and Thomson’s gazelles. At first glance, you might think that their ecological niche is very similar: same habitat, same routine, same predators and same food. The same food? Absolutely not. During migration, zebras go ahead, devouring tall grass, which is the worst quality. They are followed by wildebeest, which eat what remains standing, and these are followed by Thomson gazelle, which eat the high-quality grass, which is starting to grow again.

picg8
Although at first glance it may seem that feed on the same food, each species focuses on a different part of the plant. Source: Abierto por vacaciones.

CAN TWO SPECIES LIVE TOGETHER WITH THE SAME NICHE IN THE SAME PLACE?

The competitive exclusion principle, proposed by Gause (1934), states that two species occupying the same niche can not coexist in the long term as they come into competition for resources. Thus, in a competitive process for the same ecological niche, there is always a winner and a loser. In the end, one of the competitors is imposed by another, and then two things can happen: the extinction of the loser one (image A) or a traits displacement in order to occupy another niche (image B). In fact, the competitive exclusion principle is behind the current problems with invasive species. Invasive species niche is very similar to native species niche and, when they converge in the same habitat, the invasive species end up displacing native species, as they are better ecological competitors. It also often happens, of course, the opposite: the exotic species is worse than its counterpart and the competitor fails to thrive in the new environment.

20_08_competitvexclusion-l1335993938015
Image A | This study was conducted in order to observe the effect of competitive exclusion in two species of protists. Both species occupy almost identical ecological niches, but they are not living together in nature. The density of one falls sharply when they are forced to share the same space, until it eventually disappears. This same process occurs with invasive species. Source: Jocie Broth.

pinzones
Image B | When the 3 species of Darwin’s finches (in different colors) coexist on the same island, a trait displacement occurs by competitive exclusion. Individuals from the ends tend to have very similar bill depths to those of the other species, resulting in a niche overlap and subsequent competition. The final boundaries are established thanks to this process. Source: Nature.

THE FUNCTIONAL EQUIVALENCE

We have seen that to share ecological niche is synonymous of having conflict between species. However, there is a situation in which problem do not take place. The hypothesis of functional equivalence proposed by Hubbell proclaims that if the niches are identical and the species life parameters (fertility, mortality, dispersion) are also the same, none of them has a competitive advantage over the other, and the battle ends in tables. This fact seems to occur only in a very stable ecosystem in a Panama rainforest island (Barro Colorado). Different species of trees, as having almost identical parameters of life, do not compete between them and are distributed randomly, as if the individuals of different species belong to the same species. Furthermore, it seems that speciation in this kind of rainforest could also occur by chance, which would have caused the high density of species that harbor these forests.

1503897694_2ab5f7ba2e_b
Tropical forests have a tree species density unique in the world. One hectare of tropical forest may contain up to 650 tree species, more than the number of tree species present in both Canada and continental US. Will Hubbell’s functional equivalence theory be behind the explanation for this curious fact? Source: Flickr, Jo.

NEW NICHES, NEW SPECIES

Speciation, or the creation of new species, usually occurs when new ecological niches are created or the existing become unoccupied. In both cases, to occupy a new ecological niche imply a gradual differentiation from the initial population to become a genetically distinct species. As an example of formation of new ecological niches we have the case of the emergence of angiosperms. Their booming opened many new possibilities, thanks both to increasing diversity of seeds and fruits (which, in turn, increased the number of specialized species) and the emergence of complex flowers, which allowed the explosion of many pollinators (facilitating the emergence of new insectivores). As an example of unoccupied niche, there is the famous case of the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs. Dinosaurs dominated a lot of niches, from land to air ecosystems, and even the aquatic environment. Those empty niches was occupied by many mammals, thanks to their high fertility and plasticity (flexibility to adapt into different habitats). That eventually led large ratios of speciation in a short time, what is known as adaptive radiation.

Eomaia_NT
This is Eomaia scansoria, an extinct species of mammals that lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. The extinction of the dinosaurs opened up a wide range of possibilities to mammals, which, although they were expanding, remained in the background. Their great plasticity led them to colonize many habitats, by occupying the free ecological niches left by the dinosaurs. Source: Wikipedia.

ASSEMBLY OF COMMUNITIES

As we have seen, the ecological niche is behind fundamental ecological and evolutionary processes. All living communities today have been formed thanks to the niches of different species. Through competition, species niches were overlaping, and the communities were assembled like a puzzle. When a piece disappears, another takes its place, playing the role that the other had in the community. However, knowing the whole ecological niche of a species is arduous and, in most cases, impossible. As in human relationships, an exhaustive knowledge of everything that influences the life of a species (or the living space of a person) is of great importance in order to ensure their long-term preservation.

REFERENCES

Ricard-anglès

Why do we need ocean?

Fortunately, society is more concerned about the state of conservation of the environment due to human activities, both on land and at sea. In case there are still who think we do not need sea at all, this article aims to show what benefits gives us the sea.

WHICH ISSUES ARE AFFECTING THE SEA?

Did you know that some studies suggest that the entire surface of the seas and oceans of the Earth is hit by some human activity? In fact, 41% of the surface is affected by more than a factor of anthropogenic origin.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), there are several anthropic impacts at sea:

  • Ocean acidification.
  • Coral bleaching [More information here].
  • Chemical contamination.
  • Global change [You can read about the effects of global change on plants, whales, corals, reptiles and the current sea level rise].
  • Increase in toxic algae.
  • Increased invasive species [Discover what is an invasive species!].
  • Increase of jellyfish [If you want to know how are jellyfish and want to learn to identify the species of the Mediterranean, visit this article].
  • Loss of biodiversity.
  • Loss of habitats.
  • Nutrient overload.
  • Overexploitation of species with commercial interests.
  • Dead zones.

problemas mar contaminación
There are many anthropic impacts at sea, like pollution by several types of products and materials (Picture: NOAA, Creative Commons).

Not only do they affect marine ecosystems, but also affects the human population because the ecosystem services promote our welfare. So we can ask: why do we need the sea?

WHICH BENEFITS DO WE OBTAIN FROM SEA?

According to TEEB, ecosystem services are all those direct and indirect ecosystem and biodiversity contributions to human welfare. These services are: supply services, cultural services and regulation services.

SUPPLY SERVICES

All those contributions of ecosystems that take place directly or indirectly to human welfare, whether they have a biological or geological origin, are part of supply services.

Foods that the sea provides is one of the most important supply services to humans, including fish, shellfish and algae. An example of this is the fact that supplies 20% of the animal protein intake to 3,000 million people and that more than 120 million tons of fish were consumed in 2010. For all this, the current situation of exploited populations is critical in many cases, as you can read in this article.

seafood-165220_640
Sea supplies 20% of the animal protein intake to 3,000 million people  (Picture: Pixabay).

Sea is also a source of renewable energy because it is the source of many weather events (like wind) and tides and currents. Thus, sea provides wind energy and tidal power (generated by tides, currents and waves).

Another benefit that we get is different biotic or geologic materials, such as salts, ornamental materials and mineral resources. Without going into the details of the high environmental impact of extracting marine mineral resources, materials such as sand, diamonds, metals such as gold and tin, coal, gas hydrates, oil, gas and some others are exploited [can read more in this document of the International seabed Authority (ISA)].

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The exploitation of marine geologic resources, which is not free of impacts, lets obtain many diverse resources (Picture: National Geographic).

In addition, we benefit from certain substances and organisms that have some beneficial property to humans, such as medicines and cosmetics.

CULTURAL SERVICES

Cultural services are those that are obtained through direct experience with ecosystems. Although they are not the most important, we must also taken into consideration.

Ecosystems help to the creation and maintenance of cultural identity and sense of belonging to a community. What would we be without our festivities and without the different types of food?

Marine ecosystems enable developing advocacy and awareness by sea. They also contribute to the increase of scientific knowledge through research of different types. If you’re a biologist, would you like to discover a new species?

ctd
Research in marine environment let obtain useful knowledge for society (Picture: Perplex Me Not).

It is also the basis for many recreational activities such as whale watching, diving, tourism, recreational fishing and navigation activities [Do you want to know if recreational fishing is compatible in marine reserves?].

Here we could talk about more services, but I focused on the most relevant.

REGULATION SERVICES

Last but not least, marine ecosystems are responsible for the proper functioning of ecosystems as a whole. They are the most important services because from them depend all the rest.

In marine ecosystems, it occurs a set of processes by which they maintain or improve water and sediment quality. To give an example, they are involved in the oxygenation of dead zones and to absorb waste or pollutants.

But, certainly, it is important to highlight its key role in regulating the Earth’s climate. Earth’s oceans are the largest sink for greenhouse gases because they capture  carbon dioxide away from the air and distributes it in depth. So, they help to fight against global change, but everything has its limit.

imagen-sin-titulo
Due to the power of oceans in absorbing dioxide carbon, they play a key role in climate regulation  (Picture: El Confidencial).

On countless occasions, we have seen beaches to disappear after a storm, a hurricane and other extreme events. Do you want to know the reason? The main reason is that due to human action, our coast has lost its protective function, ie, has lost the ability to buffer natural disturbances. In a healthy beach, after a storm, it would regenerate naturally. Well, when a beach disappears, then  we have problems in promenades or houses built  at first line of the coast.

Although we could explain some more benefits, I will finish by mentioning its importance in providing the necessary nutrients for marine organisms and habitat maintenance of biodiversity.

REFERENCES

  • FAO. (2012). The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture. FAO. Rome.
  • Fernando Santos-Martín, Carlos Montes, Paloma Alcorlo, Susana García-Tiscar, Blanca González, María Rosario Vidal-Abarca, María Luisa Suárez, Laura Royo, Inmaculada Férriz, Juan Barragán, Juan Adolfo Chica, César López y Javier Benayas. 2015. La aproximación de los servicios de los ecosistemas aplicada a la gestión pesquera. Fondo Europeo de Pesca, Fundación Biodiversidad del Ministerio de Medio Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente. Madrid.
  • Jackson, J.B., Kirby, M.X., Berger, W.H., Bjorndal, K.A., Botsford, L.W., Bourque, B.J., Bradbury, R.H., Cooke, R., Erlandson, J., Estes, J.A., et al. (2001). Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science 293, 629–637.
  • MA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment). (2005). Ecosystem and Human Well-being. Island Press. Washington.
  • Notes of the subject “Geología de los océanos” of the Master in Oceanography and Marine Environment Management (UB).
  • TEEB. (2012). The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Business and Enterprise. Joshua Bishop (ed.). Earthscan, London and New York. Urquhart, J., Acott, T., Reed, M., Courtney, P. (2011). Setting an agenda for social science research in fisheries policy in Northern Europe. Fish. Res. 108,
    240–247.
  • UNEP. (2006). Marine and coastal ecosystem and human well-being. A synthesis report based on the finding of the Millennium Ecosystem Assesment. UNEP.
  • Main picture: Stilts fishhermen Sri Lanka (Bernard Gagnon, Creative Commons).

Difusió-anglès

What is an exotic species and an invasive species?

The concept of exotic species is being more present in the press due to some famous cases like apple snails, monk parakeets, American minks, pond sliders and red swamp crayfishes in Spain. Here we will focus on defining the concept of exotic and invasive species and what we can do to avoid their presence. 

EXOTIC SPECIES AND INVASIVE SPECIES: DIFFERENT CONCEPTS

An exotic species, known also as introduced, alien, non-native or non-indigenous species, is that foreign species that have been introduced in a zone out of its natural distribution. This introduction usually happens for human causes, either voluntarily or involuntarily. The opposite concept is indigenous species.

It is necessary not confusing the first concept with the concept invasive species. A species is invasive when, being exotic or indigenous, the increase of its population supposes an environmental problem, so put in danger the rest of the species present in the specific zone. Despite most of the invasive species are exotic, there are also some cases in which can be indigenous. To give an example, if in a forest disappears the main predator of a particular species, this can increase the number of individuals, so it can become an invasive species.

Les espècies (Foto extreta de Swapsushias).
The concept of exotic and invasive species are different, but most invasive species are exotic (Picture from Swapsushias).

It’s advisable to highlight that the establishment of exotic species in a specific zone is not easy, so the ecosystems have some filters that have to be exceeded. The first barrier that have to be exceeded is the geographical separation between the origin and the arrival point. Then, it can just establish if it has the ability of surviving in the new habitat and of reproducing. Finally, the species would be able to spread and, in this way, it is an exotic species that can become invasive.

IMPACT OF EXOTIC SPECIES

The presence of exotic species, by itself, not necessarily represent a problem. Imagine a field of potatoes or corn, which come form America and don’t suppose an environmental problem by themselves. In most of the cases, the problem is when they become invasive species, which represent a worldwide problem, especially in islands and archipelagos, for the impact that they suppose:

  • Alteration and degradation of habitat.
  • Biodiversity loss.
  • They can suppose a health problem.
  • They can suppose a negative impact on economy, for the negative effect on natural resources and on tourism.

NUMBERS IN SPAIN

According to the Spanish Catalogue of Invasive Exotic Species, inside the Spanish territory there are 13 invasive exotic species of algae, 75 of plants, 14 of non-arthropod invertebrates, 26 of arthropods, 19 of fishes, 4 of amphibians, 4 of reptiles, 17 of birds and 15 of mammals.

El musclo zebra és una de les moltes espècies exòtiques invasores presents a Espanya (Foto extreta de El mon d'en Cotildu).
Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) is one of the many invasive exotic species present in Spain (Picture from El mon d’en Cotildu).

WHAT CAN I DO?

  1. Acquisition of pets:
    • To acquire pets in specialised shops to guarantee the legal and healthy security.
    • Don’t abandon or free exotic species in the nature.
    • Don’t acquire invasive species.
  2. In the garden:
    • Plant indigenous species.
    • Never throw ornamental plants, aquarium plants or pieces of exotic plants in humid zones or rivers.
  3. Travelling:
    • Don’t transport animals, plants or seeds without declaring them from a country to another.
    • Clean the soles of your boots and your equipment before doing hiking in a new zone.
  4. Fishing:
    • Don’t transport water from a place to another.
    • Don’t use exotic bait.

REFERENCES

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Fishes with bad spines

This week, after the amazing success of the last post, I will change the direction of the article and I will focus on the fishes with bad spines, it is, fishes with venomous spines, but focusing on the Mediterranean species. 

INTRODUCTION

Despite seas and oceans of the planet are inhabited by a high number of potentially dangerous animals for humans, understanding its danger for bites, electric discharges or for its consumption; the truth is that in only few cases these animals attack deliberately; so, accidents are that: accidents produced by ignorance or carelessness. We have to have into consideration that we are not a prey of this fishes, so: which is the sense that this animals attack us deliberately?

These fishes with bad spines are catalogued as actively venomous animals, it is, they have a venomous apparatus with glands that produce poison and a mechanism that permits the introduction inside another animal, like spines or teeth. This poison are used to defend themselves or/and to capture their preys.

PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE

These are some tips to prevent possible injuries when you go to the beach or when you are diving. They are useful to avoid venomous fishes and other marine animals:

Prevention at the beach

  • To inform about venomous animal of your destination.
  • Don’t touch anything that you don’t know.
  • Watch your step. There may be sea urchins or fishes…
  • Taking a swim at night or in desert beaches suppose more risk.
  • Use full-body neoprene in waters with potentially dangerous fauna, like Australia.
  • Don’t swim close to the bottom (sand, rocks or reefs).

Prevention while diving

  • Control your flotability in order to don’t touch anything.
  • Don’t put your hands inside cavities, cracks or holes if you don’t see the interior.
  • Leave a exit way for animals.
  • Don’t feed fishes.

MEDITERRANEAN FISHES WITH VENOMOUS SPINES

Myliobatiformes

Description. They include whiprays. Their body is flatten and with a circular or rhomboidal shape. They are the only venomous fishes that can produce a deep wound. The venomous spines are place in the upper part of the tail, with different shapes, sizes and positions according to the family. They usually are on the seafloor (benthonic species), often buried with sediment and with the eyes and spiracles on the water, so the most part of the accidents are for involuntary footsteps.

Danger. In whiprays, the needle is placed far from the the base of the tail, what allows for a wide outreach, but only it is a defensive weapon. The needle is hard and with hooks in the edge. It is in its interior where are venomous glands, which acts on heart muscles. In addition to the wound, the symptoms are: nausea, diarrhoea, vomit, sweating, circulatory disruptions and anxiety.

Mediterranean  species. There are two venomous species in the Mediterranean: roughtail stingray (Dasyatis centroura) and common stingray (Dasyatis pastinaca). Roughtail stingray can measure 210 cm, has a rhomboidal shape and in the central part of the back and in the tail it has bony tubercles. They live in coastal waters, where feed on crustaceans, cephalopods and small fishes. On the other hand, common stingray, that also inhabits in coastal waters, doesn’t have bony tubercles in the back, but in the tail.

Escurçana clavellada (Dasyatis centroura)
Roughtail stingray (Dasyatis centroura) (Picture: Okeefes)

Escurçana o milà (Dasyatis pastinaca) (Foto de Ictioterm)
Common stingray (Dasyatis pastinaca) (Picture: Ictioterm)

Scorpaenidae

Description. With a robust body, Scorpaenidae fishes have big pectoral fins and a wild and big head. Its colouration is brown reddish and irregular.

Danger. Most of the species live on the rocks or behind corals, so the risk is on step on them. The poison produce a reduction of pressure and lung edema and an increase of pressure on lung arteries, and cramps. The hard spines placed in front of the dorsal fin, the three first of the anal fin and the two first of the ventral fins present poison.

Mediterranean species. In the Mediterranean, there is 3 species with venomous spines: the largescaled scorpionfish (Scorpaena scrofa), the small red scorpionfish (Scorpaena notata) and the brown scorpionfish (Scorpaena porcus). The largescaled scorpionfish is the biggest species in the Mediterranean (till 50 cm) and live in rocky and sandy seafloors. It can be easily identified by long dorsal spines with separated membrane. On the other hand, the small red scorpionfish has a short tentacle above each eye, has not appendixes in the chin, its size is about 20 cm and with a black spot in the dorsal fin. Finally, the brown scorpionfish has large tentacles above the eyes and in the chin.

Cap-roig (Scorpaena scrofa) (Foto de Ictioterm)
Largescaled scorpionfish (Scorpaena scrofa) (Picture: Ictioterm)

Captinyós (Scorpaena notata) (Foto: Dein Freund der Baum, Creative Commons).
Small red scorpionfish (Scorpaena notata) (Picture: Dein Freund der Baum, Creative Commons).

Escórpora (Scorpaena porcus) (Foto de Maestro Pescador)
Brown scorpionfish (Scorpaena porcus) (Foto de Maestro Pescador)

Trachinidae

Description. These fishes has a long and laterally flatten body. The mouth is wide and orientated upwards.

Danger. All the species live in sandy seafloors, where bury theirselves. The venomous spines are the 5-7 first of the dorsal fin and the spine in the gill operculum. The poison produce an intense pain in the affected zone and cause sweating, nausea and secondary infections.

Mediterranean species. There are two venomous species in the Mediterranean: streaked weever (Trachinus radiatus) and the greater weever (Trachinus draco). The streaked weever can be identified by: a brown yellowish to gray body with dark spots and the first dorsal fin has six spiny spines. Such can be the gravity of the bite that can be lethal. The greater weever has a grey greenish to brown yellowish body; with short, dark and yellow lines and with 5-7 spiny spines in the first dorsal fin.

Aranya de cap negre (Trachinus radiatus) (Foto de SnipView).
Streaked weever (Trachinus radiatus) (Picture: SnipView).

Aranya blanca (Trachinus draco) Foto de Biopix).
Greater weever (Trachinus draco) (Picture: Biopix).

Rabbitfishes

Description. They are typical species of coral reef and in lagoons in Indian and Pacific oceans, but one species can be found in the Eastern Mediterranean, where lives in rocky seafloors with algae. Its body is oval and very laterally flatten, with a small head and mouth.

Danger. Rabbitfishes are shy, so it is difficult to be hurt by their spiny spines, which are all over the body: 13 in the dorsal fin, 7 in the anal fin and 2 more in the ventral fin. Poison causes a hard pain, but it doesn’t persist so much.

Mediterranean species. The marbled spinefoot (Siganus rivulatus) has an olive light body with irregular brown spots. It can be confused with salema porgies (Sarpa salpa). It is an invasive species.

Peix conill llis (Siganus rivulatus) (Foto: Stephan Moldzio, Fishbase).
Marbled spinefoot (Siganus rivulatus) (Picture: Stephan Moldzio, Fishbase).

Remember: you don’t have to be afraid of sea and nature. With common sense and respect towards nature you won’t suffer any harm.

REFERENCES

  • Ballesteros E & Llobet, T (2015). Fauna i flora de la mar Mediterrània. Ed. Brau
  • Bergbauer, Myers & Kirschner (2009). Guía de animales marinos peligrosos. Ed. Omega
  • Martin, P (1999). Claves para la clasificación de la fauna marina. Ed. Omega
  • Riedl (1986). Fauna y Flora del Mar Mediterráneo. Ed. Omega

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