Paper: Stormwater wetlands can function as ecological traps for urban frogs

Around cities, natural wetlands are rapidly being destroyed and replaced with wetlands constructed to treat stormwater. Although the intended purpose of these wetlands is to manage urban stormwater, they are inhabited by wildlife that might be exposed to contaminants. These effects will be exacerbated if animals are unable to differentiate between stormwater treatment wetlands of varying quality and some function as “ecological traps” (i.e., habitats that animals prefer despite fitness being lower than in other habitats). To examine if urban stormwater wetlands can be ecological traps for frogs, we tested if survival, metamorphosis‐related measures, and predator avoidance behaviors of frogs differed within mesocosms that simulated stormwater wetlands with different contaminant levels, and paired this with a natural oviposition experiment to assess breeding‐site preferences. We provide the first empirical evidence that these wetlands can function as ecological traps for frogs. Tadpoles had lower survival and were less responsive to predator olfactory cues when raised in more polluted stormwater wetlands, but also reached metamorphosis earlier and at a larger size. A greater size at metamorphosis was likely a result of increased per capita food availability due to higher mortality combined with eutrophication, although other compensatory effects such as selective‐mortality removing smaller individuals from low‐quality mesocosms may also explain these results. Breeding adults laid comparable numbers of eggs across wetlands with high and low contaminant levels, indicating no avoidance of the former. Since stormwater treatment wetlands are often the only available aquatic habitat in urban landscapes we need to better understand how they perform as habitats to guide management decisions that mitigate their potential ecological costs. This may include improving wetland quality so that fitness is no longer compromised, preventing colonization by animals, altering the cues animals use when selecting habitats, pretreating contaminated water prior to release, providing off‐line wetlands nearby, or simply not constructing stormwater treatment wetlands in sensitive areas. Our study confirms the potential for urban stormwater treatment wetlands to function as ecological traps and highlights the need for greater awareness of their prevalence and impact at landscape scales.

Sievers, M., Parris, K. M., Swearer, S. E., and Hale, R. (2018). Stormwater wetlands can function as ecological traps for urban frogs. Ecological Applications. DOI: 10.1002/eap.1714.


Paper: Behaviour in the toolbox to outsmart parasites and improve fish welfare in aquaculture

Host behaviour can prevent infection and moderate the fitness of parasites. Antiparasite behaviours are prevalent in many host–parasite systems and occur over fine or broad scales. With global growth in aquaculture production and the associated proliferation of parasites in farming systems, the behaviour of the fish being farmed has seldom been investigated in relation to parasites. Epidemics and outbreaks of parasites are prevalent in most aquaculture systems, and behaviour could be harnessed in concert with current methods to prevent and control parasites and pathogens. However, this requires a systematic understanding of the behaviours of hosts, their capacity for resistance and their interaction with the environment and the parasite. Herein, we present evidence for how behaviour could be used in aquaculture, and discuss the possibility for behaviour to be used in aquaculture as (i) an indicator of welfare status, (ii) a tool in prevention or control and (iii) to maintain or improve welfare. We apply this framework to a case study of a highly problematic parasite, the salmon louse (Lepeophtheirus salmonis), on farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). We present the current state of the system, and the drawbacks of current control or prevention methods. We synergise current knowledge on host behaviours and show how behaviour could be incorporated into current and new approaches for prevention and control. Through this first evaluation of the possibilities behaviour presents in disease management, we aim to facilitate a shift in the current disease control paradigm from reactive‐based post‐infection control to pre‐infection prevention approaches.

Bui et al 2018 cages

Bui, S., Oppedal, F., Sievers, M., and Dempster, T. (2017). Behaviour in the toolbox to outsmart parasites and improve fish welfare in aquaculture. Reviews in Aquaculture. DOI: 10.1111/raq.12232.

Paper: Impacts of human-induced environmental change in wetlands on aquatic animals

Just had the first chapter of my PhD published in Biological Reviews. Stay tuned for some PR!

Many wetlands harbour highly diverse biological communities and provide extensive ecosystem services; however, these important ecological features are being altered, degraded and destroyed around the world. Despite a wealth of research on how animals respond to anthropogenic changes to natural wetlands and how they use created wetlands, we lack a broad synthesis of these data. While some altered wetlands may provide vital habitat, others could pose a considerable risk to wildlife. This risk will be heightened if such wetlands are ecological traps – preferred habitats that confer lower fitness than another available habitat. Wetlands functioning as ecological traps could decrease both local and regional population persistence, and ultimately lead to extinctions. Most studies have examined how animals respond to changes in environmental conditions by measuring responses at the community and population levels, but studying ecological traps requires information on fitness and habitat preferences. Our current lack of knowledge of individual-level responses may therefore limit our capacity to manage wetland ecosystems effectively since ecological traps require different management practices to mitigate potential consequences.

We conducted a global meta-analysis to characterise how animals respond to four key drivers of wetland alteration: agriculture, mining, restoration and urbanisation. Our overarching goal was to evaluate the ecological impacts of human alterations to wetland ecosystems, as well as identify current knowledge gaps that limit both the current understanding of these responses and effective wetland management. We extracted 1799 taxon-specific response ratios from 271 studies across 29 countries. Community- (e.g. richness) and population-level (e.g. density) measures within altered wetlands were largely comparable to those within reference wetlands. By contrast, individual fitness measures (e.g. survival) were often lower, highlighting the potential limitations of using only community- and population-level measures to assess habitat quality. Only four studies provided habitat-preference data, preventing investigation of the potential for altered wetlands to function as ecological traps. This is concerning because attempts to identify ecological traps may detect previously unidentified conservation risks. Although there was considerable variability amongst taxa, amphibians were typically the most sensitive taxon, and thus, may be a valuable bio-indicator of wetland quality. Despite suffering reduced survival and reproduction, measures such as time to and mass at metamorphosis were similar between altered and reference wetlands, suggesting that quantifying metamorphosis-related measures in isolation may not provide accurate information on habitat quality.

Our review provides the most detailed evaluation to date of the ecological impacts of human alterations to wetland ecosystems. We emphasise that the role of wetlands in human-altered ecosystems can be complex, as they may represent important habitat but also pose potential risks to animals. Reduced availability of natural wetlands is increasing the importance of altered wetlands for aquatic animals. Consequently, we need to define what represents habitat quality from the perspective of animals, and gain a greater understanding of the underlying mechanisms of habitat selection and how these factors could be manipulated. Furthermore, strategies to enhance the quality of these wetlands should be implemented to maximise their conservation potential.

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Sievers, M., Hale, R., Parris, M. K. and Swearer, S. E. 2017. Impacts of human-induced environmental change in wetlands on aquatic animals. Biological Reviews 10.1111/brv.12358

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Paper: Biofouling in shellfish aquaculture: is it worth removing?

The global growth of farmed shell sh production has resulted in considerable research investigating how biofouling compromises farm productivity. Shell sh tness can be compared between fouled stock and stock which has undergone treatment. As treatment options are often harsh, they may deleteriously a ect stock. The projected impact of biofouling may therefore be confounded by the impact of treatments. Given the substantial cost of fouling removal, some have questioned the necessity of biofouling mitigation strategies. Meta-analysis revealed that biofouling typically reduces shell sh tness. However, the tness of treated stock was often lower or equal to fouled control stock, indicating that many common antifouling (AF) strategies are ine ective at enhancing farm productivity. Overall, caution and diligence are required to successfully implement biofouling mitigation strategies. The need remains for increased passive prevention approaches and novel AF strategies suitable for shell sh culture, such as strategic siting of bivalve farms in areas of low biofouling larval supply.


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Sievers, M., Fitridge, I., Bui, S. and Dempster, T. (2017) To treat or not to treat: a quantitative review of the effect of biofouling and control methods in shellfish aquaculture to evaluate the necessity of removal. Biofouling