Tag Archives: Marine Biology

Just keep swimming

This little critter is a limpet.  From the photo they may not look like the most exciting of creatures.  If you’ve ever been down to the coast and taken a look at them yourself… your opinion may not have changed.  They don’t seem to move around a lot, or do a lot.  Of course looks can be deceiving.  Under that shell is the limpet’s squishy body – and their big, muscular foot which, alongside a pretty amazing adhesive secretion, they use to cling onto rocks and other hard surfaces.  Anyone who has ever had a go at trying to get a limpet off a rock knows how good a grip they can have.  This fabulous foot isn’t just used to stop them from drying out when the tide leaves them exposed to the air, or keep pesky predators (or nosy humans) at bay.  Limpets are grazers, feeding on tiny algae on the surface of rocks with their raspy “tongue” (called a radula).  See that empty space behind the limpet in the photo?  That’s where it’s been grazing.  Once they have grazed an area they need to find more food.  That foot gets to work, and along moves the limpet, munching up all the algae in its path.  Some limpet species even appear to have a home – a particular crevice that they return to just before the tide will expose them to the air.

But this isn’t a post about how amazing limpets are.  This is a post about animal movements in the ocean.. Or at least 3 different types of animal movement.  Some of them move a lot further than you think.  Yes, even limpets.

Continue reading Just keep swimming

Where the wild things roam: Dispersal, connectivity, marine protected areas, and my PhD project


In my last post I mentioned that I am starting a PhD.  I promised to tell you a little more about what my research will be looking at, so here we go!

The project outline

My research comes very broadly defined already – the work’s raison d’être if you like.  Here it is:

“Movement and dispersal connects marine populations, allowing restoration of depleted local populations by immigrants that renew genetic diversity. Although Canada’s Oceans Act prioritizes ‘linking Canada’s network of marine protected areas (MPA)’, connectivity has not weighed significantly in MPA network design in Canada. This study will optimize regional marine connectivity among protected areas in the Atlantic region by determining optimal locations for new MPAs and evaluating how commercially important species would be representative in the entire MPA network. To model species distribution based on larval dispersal, fishery pressure, and climate change, we will use 3-D ocean circulation models. Then, based on metapopulation theory, we will develop novel spatial network algorithms to optimise the number and spatial connectivity between MPAs under current and future scenarios of climate and fishery pressure that may alter larval supply”.

Sounds complex?  Yep, for me too. Continue reading Where the wild things roam: Dispersal, connectivity, marine protected areas, and my PhD project

On being MIA – and what’s next

Hello my fellow readers

You may have noticed that I have been away for some time.  Some of you have even gotten in contact with me to find out why, and encourage me back – thank you!  Your words of kindness and encouragement were very much appreciated.  I honestly did not mean to disappear for so long, but I did get incredibly busy.  I thought I’d share with you all some of the questions I’ve been asked during my time away – and my responses! Continue reading On being MIA – and what’s next

Protecting Kenya’s dolphin habitat

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are pretty nifty tools for marine conservation. You take an area, you give it a designations and (hopefully… but the reality can be quite different) you attach some regulations/legislation to remove harmful activities to whatever it is you are trying to protect inside the MPA and make efforts to rebuild and conserve this spot. The situation of picking an area to designate can become trickier when dealing with ocean wanderers – species that move around a lot, and over great distances. It is safe to say that it is politically unfeasible to designate one area big enough to encompass, for example the movement of sea turtles. Instead, sea turtles may find critical habitat – feeding areas or nesting beaches for instance, covered by an MPA. We can’t protect them everywhere, but we can build a case to protect them where we know they hang out in large numbers. Some species are a little less predictable – or we simply don’t know where their critical areas are. Take southern Kenya’s populations of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) for instance. Apparently these critters are the most abundant of the marine mammals in Kenya’s Kisite-Mpunguti MPA. Abundance does not mean we know much about them though. The species is listed as data deficient on the IUCN Red List. Continue reading Protecting Kenya’s dolphin habitat

Cool critter of the month: the chambered nautilus (Nautilus pompilius)

Phylum: Mollusca

Family: Nautilidae

Where do they live?
These ocean dwellers can be found throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  As it turns out, there are two sub-species of (Nautilus pompilius).  Nautilus pompilius polpilius is the larger of the two subspecies.  These guys can be found in the Andaman Sea down to Western Australia in the Indian Ocean, and from southern Japan down to Northern Australia in the Pacific.  Nautilus pompilius suluensis has a much more restricted range, staying in the Sulu Sea between Malaysia and the Philippines.

Continue reading Cool critter of the month: the chambered nautilus (Nautilus pompilius)

With ever-warming waters, some European fish are on the move

We all have our favourite types of environment and weather.  Some love those warm, sunny days spent on a beach of golden sands.  Some love those rainy days in the forest, when everything glistens with the raindrops.  Some love nothing more than a cold crisp day in snowy mountains.  We humans are lucky.  We can not only survive but enjoy a wealth of different environmental conditions.  Many other species are not so adaptive.  In the oceans some creatures live in the seabed itself, others on top.  Some may stay in the water column dominated by a particular type of habitat like a kelp forest, whilst others roam into a variety of different locations throughout their lives.  Then there are the varying conditions of the ocean itself.  Some areas are generally calm whilst others may experience a lot of movement.  Salinity levels also vary, as does oxygen, as does temperature.  Actually temperature – as many a fisher will know – is a super important driver of species distribution.  There are a few reasons for this.  First, unlike us, most fish do not have the ability to control their own body temperature.  Their internal body temperature reflects that of the environment they are in.  The second primary reason relates to food.  If the major food of a fish – be it plant (phytoplankton) or animal – changes its abundance (how many) or its distribution (where it is), then the fish may follow. Continue reading With ever-warming waters, some European fish are on the move

Cool critter of the month: Slipper Limpet (Crepidula fornicata)

Cool critter of the month: Slipper Limpet (Crepidula fornicata )

Phylum: Mollusca

Family: Calyptaeidae

Where do they live?
These guys live in the intertidal zone, often attached to any hard substrate…. Literally any.  Although you can find them on the soft substrates as well as clinging onto rocks and pilings, you can find them quite happily living on other creatures such as crabs, oysters – and even other slipper limpets!  These guys can form chains of around 12 limpets long, with the largest ones sitting at the bottom, and the smallest at the top.  The slipper limpet is native to the east coast of America.  It’s pretty widespread too, with its most northerly point starting in Nova Scotia in Canada and most southerly in the Gulf of Mexico.

Continue reading Cool critter of the month: Slipper Limpet (Crepidula fornicata)

What the oceans do for us: Medicine

Humans are not infallible.  We get sick, we get injured.  Humans are a clever bunch though, and since prehistoric times we have used medicine to try and heal our ailments.  Medical science has made huge leaps and bounds, providing treatments and vaccinations, surgical procedures, and physical and psychological therapies that have allowed people to survive – and thrive – injuries and illnesses which would have once been fatal.  Medical science never stops evolving, learning, and searching for more ways to keep us in tip-top condition.  That search includes delving beneath the ocean waves.  Here’s just a couple of open access examples of how medical science has been furthered by studying ocean creatures: Continue reading What the oceans do for us: Medicine

A practical solution to species range changes detection?

With rapidly warming ocean regions comes changes in marine species distributions.  Understanding and monitoring these changes is important for managing biosecurity threats as well as management of existing and changing living marine resources.  Detecting range changes in the marine environment is difficult and expensive.  For many species, assessment simply has not taken place.  To combat this data gap and assist managers in directing limited research resources, Dr Lucy Robinson, research fellow at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) and colleagues suggest a new method – rapid screening assessment that uses a variety of sources.

Development of the method, which was recently published in Global Environmental Change , focused on waters off the east coast of Tasmania, and area where over the past 50 years warming has been nearly four times greater than the global average.  Using field data from a number of sources, primarily from the citizen science program Redmap Australia, 47 species were assessed for range expansion.  Categorising species based on confidence in their range expansion, 8 species – 6 fish species, a lobster and an octopus species –  were categorised with a ‘‘high’’ confidence of potentially extending their ranges.  These species, the researchers argue, are the ones that should be prioritised for impact assessment, with those falling in the “medium” and “low” confidence categories coming after.

The paper is behind a paywall, but if you have access (or want to buy a copy) you can find it here http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.12.003

Image:  The rainbow cale (Heteroscarus acroptilus) is one of the species assessed in this study.  The assessment had “high” confidence in a potential range extension for this beautiful fish.  This particular beauty is a male in breeding colouration. Credit Richard Ling/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Cool critter of the month: The Eurasian oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

Phylum: Chordata

Family: Haematopodidae

Where do they live?
These rather enigmatic migratory birds have a large range stretching across Europe, north Africa, and even into parts of Asia.  Most of the birds spend the winter in the warmer parts of this range, primarily in north Africa and southern Europe, moving northwards to breed.  In some areas like the UK, there are resident populations, where the birds stay all year round (though they undergo a ‘mini-migration’, from the southwest in the winter to the north for breeding).  During the breeding season you stand a good chance of spotting the birds on coastal saltmarshes, sandy or shingly beaches, on dunes and even on the shoreline of inland lakes and rivers.  During the winter months, your best bet is to head down to bays and estuaries.  If there are any oystercatchers nearby there’s a good chance you will spot them.  Not only is the oystercatcher among the largest of the waders, but the birds are also incredibly noisy.  Just check out this short video.

Why are they awesome?
The Eurasian oystercatcher is one of 12 species of oystercatcher found across the world.  Apparently they were given their name ‘oystercatcher’ back in the early 1840’s when the American oystercatcher ( Haematopus alliatus) was spotted munching on oysters – a mollusc that is not easy to get at.  Here are three open access papers explaining some of the awesome things we have learned about these flying critters:

Continue reading Cool critter of the month: The Eurasian oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)