Habitat loss is accelerating a global extinction crisis. Conservation requires understanding links between species and habitats. Emerging research is revealing important associations between vegetated coastal wetlands and marine megafauna, such as cetaceans, sea turtles, and sharks. But these links have not been reviewed and the importance of these globally declining habitats is undervalued. Here, we identify associations for 102 marine megafauna species that utilize these habitats, increasing the number of species with associations based on current International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) species assessments by 59% to 174, accounting for over 13% of all marine megafauna. We conclude that coastal wetlands require greater protection to support marine megafauna, and present a simple, effective framework to improve the inclusion of habitat associations within species assessments.
Sievers M, Brown CL, Tulloch VJD, Pearson RM, Haig JA, Turschwell MP, and Connolly RM (2019). The role of vegetated coastal wetlands for marine megafauna conservation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
Fouling organisms in bivalve aquaculture cause significant economic losses for the industry. Husbandry strategies to reduce biofouling can involve avoidance, prevention, and treatment. In this way, the type of rope used to collect spat or grow bivalves may prevent or reduce fouling by particularly harmful species but remains largely untested. Further, while a range of eco-friendly control methods exist, their effect on widespread, common biofoulers is poorly known. We tested biofouling accumulation and spat collection for seven commercially used ropes, and evaluated treatments of ambient and heated seawater, acetic and citric acid, and combinations of both applied across a range of exposure times to two commercially grown shellfish (Mytilus galloprovincialis and Ostrea angasi) and three biofouling species (Ectopleura crocea, Ciona intestinalis and Styela clava). Rope types differed significantly in terms of fouling rates and spat collection, with specific rope types clearly advantageous, despite not being used commercially in our study area. Treatments proved variably successful, with E. crocea highly susceptible to all treatments, Ciona intestinalis moderately susceptible, and Styela clava relatively resistant. Excluding S. clava, efficacious treatments were attainable that did not adversely affect shellfish. Combining heat and acid treatments were more successful than individual treatments and provide a useful avenue for further trials. This study provides baseline evidence for treatment efficacy that will tailor longer-term, field trials to validate and streamline biofouling treatments in shellfish aquaculture.
Sievers M, Dempster T, Keough MJ, and Fitridge I (in press). Methods to prevent and treat biofouling in shellfish aquaculture. Aquaculture. DOI: j.aquaculture.2019.02.071.
Wetlands are increasingly being constructed to mitigate the effects of urban stormwater, such as altered hydrological regimes and reduced water quality, on downstream aquatic ecosystems. While the primary purpose of these wetlands is to manage stormwater, they also attract animals whose growth, survival and breeding (i.e. ‘fitness’) may be compromised. Such deleterious effects will be exacerbated if animals are caught in ‘ecological traps’, mistakenly preferring wetlands with unsuitable environmental conditions. Alternatively, wetlands that offer suitable habitat conditions for animals could be beneficial, especially in fragmented urban landscapes. Consequently, a thorough understanding of the potential ecological impacts of stormwater treatment wetlands is critical for managing unintended consequences to urban biodiversity.
To help facilitate this understanding, we draw upon findings from a four-year research program conducted in the city of Melbourne in south-eastern Australia as a case study. First, we summarise our research demonstrating that some stormwater wetlands can be ecological traps for native frogs and fish in the study region, whilst others likely provide important habitat in areas where few natural waterbodies remain. We use our work to highlight that while stormwater wetlands can be ecological traps, their effects can be properly managed. We propose the need for a better understanding of the ecological consequences of changes to wetland quality and their population-level impacts across the landscape. We hope that this study will generate discussions about how to most
effectively manage constructed wetlands in urban landscapes and more research for a better understanding of the issues and opportunities regarding potential ecological traps.
Hale R, Swearer SE, Sievers M, Coleman R (2019). Balancing biodiversity outcomes and pollution management in urban stormwater treatment wetlands. Journal of Environmental Management, 233, 302-307.
Urban sprawl and the rising popularity of water-sensitive urban design of urban landscapes has led to a global surge in the number of wetlands constructed to collect and treat stormwater runoff in cities. However, contaminants, such as heavy metals and pesticides, in stormwater adversely affect the survival, growth, and reproduction of animals inhabiting these wetlands. A key question is whether wildlife can identify
and avoid highly polluted wetlands. We investigated whether pond-breeding frogs are attempting to breed in wetlands that affect the fitness of their offspring across 67 urban wetlands in Melbourne, Australia. Frog species richness and the concentration of contaminants (heavy metals and pesticides) were not significantly related, even in the most polluted wetlands. The proportion of fringing vegetation at a wetland had the greatest positive influence on the number of frog species present and the probability of occurrence of individual species, indicating that frogs inhabited wetlands with abundant vegetation, regardless of their pollution status. These wetlands contained contaminant levels similar to urban wetlands around the world at levels that reduce larval amphibian survival. These results are, thus, likely generalizable to other areas, suggesting that urban managers could inadvertently be creating ecological traps in countless cities. Wetlands are important tools for the management of urban stormwater runoff, but their construction should not facilitate declines in wetland-dependent urban wildlife.
Sievers, M., Hale, R., Swearer, S. E., and Parris, K. M. (2018). Frog occupancy of polluted wetlands in urban landscapes. Conservation Biology
Although surface-based cages dominate the marine finfish aquaculture industry, production issues that arise at the surface such as poor environmental conditions and the presence of parasites has spurred interest in submerging cages. However, submerged culture is not without its own issues; for example, the adverse effects on fish buoyancy levels can alter swimming speeds and cause tilted swimming at night time, leading to reduced growth rates and vertebral deformities. The use of continuous artificial lighting is common practice in surface-based salmon farming to inhibit maturation. Its implementation can also increase swimming speeds at night, and, if used in submerged cages, may reduce the incidence of tilted swimming. Here we compared submerged
(below 10 m) and surface culture of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar for 42 d under continuous lighting. The use of continuous lightning during submergence of large (3.4 kg) Atlantic salmon increased swimming speeds, reduced tilted swimming, and spinal deformities did not arise. Submerged culture also decreased infestation by attached sea lice stages by 72%, from 4.4 to 1.2 lice per fish. However, specific growth rates of submerged fish were 30% lower than those of surface-reared fish. Developments in engineering and technologies that allow salmon to refill their swim bladders during submergence show promise in eliminating welfare and growth problems. Robust scientific experiments at full commercial scale of cages and operating systems that consider both production and welfare outcomes are critical to the successful development of submerged farming.
Sievers, M., Korsøen, Ø., Dempster, T., Fjelldal, P.G., Kristiansen, T., Folkedal, O. and Oppedal, F. (2018). Growth and welfare of submerged Atlantic salmon under continuous lighting. Aquaculture Environment Interactions. DOI: 10.3354/aei00289.
I have been fortunate to be appointed a research fellow (marine ecologist) working within the Global Wetlands program with the Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University. I will be working with a highly-skilled and diverse group of people, led by Rod Connolly and Chris Brown. For more information, see: