[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: How best to predict the effects of perturbations to ecological communities has been a long-standing goal for both applied and basic ecology. This quest has recently been revived by new empirical data, new analysis methods, and increased computing speed, with the promise that ecologically important insights may be obtainable from a limited knowledge of community interactions. We use empirically based and simulated networks of varying size and connectance to assess two limitations to predicting perturbation responses in multispecies communities: (1) the inaccuracy by which species interaction strengths are empirically quantified and (2) the indeterminacy of species responses due to indirect effects associated with network size and structure. We find that even modest levels of species richness and connectance (-25 pairwise interactions) impose high requirements for interaction strength estimates because system indeterminacy rapidly overwhelms predictive insights. Nevertheless, even poorly estimated interaction strengths provide greater average predictive certainty than an approach that uses only the sign of each interaction. Our simulations provide guidance in dealing with the trade-offs involved in maximizing the utility of network approaches for predicting dynamics in multispecies communities.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: "Super-blooms" of cyanobacteria that produce potent and environmentally persistent biotoxins (microcystins) are an emerging global health issue in freshwater habitats. Monitoring of the marine environment for secondary impacts has been minimal, although microcystin-contaminated freshwater is known to be entering marine ecosystems. Here we confirm deaths of marine mammals from microcystin intoxication and provide evidence implicating land-sea flow with trophic transfer through marine invertebrates as the most likely route of exposure. This hypothesis was evaluated through environmental detection of potential freshwater and marine microcystin sources, sea otter necropsy with biochemical analysis of tissues and evaluation of bioaccumulation of freshwater microcystins by marine invertebrates. Ocean discharge of freshwater microcystins was confirmed for three nutrient-impaired rivers flowing into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and microcystin concentrations up to 2,900 ppm (2.9 million ppb) were detected in a freshwater lake and downstream tributaries to within 1 km of the ocean. Deaths of 21 southern sea otters, a federally listed threatened species, were linked to microcystin intoxication. Finally, farmed and free-living marine clams, mussels and oysters of species that are often consumed by sea otters and humans exhibited significant biomagnification (to 107 times ambient water levels) and slow depuration of freshwater cyanotoxins, suggesting a potentially serious environmental and public health threat that extends from the lowest trophic levels of nutrient-impaired freshwater habitat to apex marine predators. Microcystin-poisoned sea otters were commonly recovered near river mouths and harbors and contaminated marine bivalves were implicated as the most likely source of this potent hepatotoxin for wild otters. This is the first report of deaths of marine mammals due to cyanotoxins and confirms the existence of a novel class of marine "harmful algal bloom" in the Pacific coastal environment; that of hepatotoxic shellfish poisoning (HSP), suggesting that animals and humans are at risk from microcystin poisoning when consuming shellfish harvested at the land-sea interface.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Ecological surprises, substantial and unanticipated changes in the abundance of one or more species that result from previously unsuspected processes, are a common outcome of both experiments and observations in community and population ecology. Here, we give examples of such surprises along with the results of a survey of well-established field ecologists, most of whom have encountered one or more surprises over the course of their careers. Truly surprising results are common enough to require their consideration in any reasonable effort to characterize nature and manage natural resources. We classify surprises as dynamic-, pattern-, or intervention-based, and we speculate on the common processes that cause ecological systems to so often surprise us. A long-standing and still growing concern in the ecological literature is how best to make predictions of future population and community dynamics. Although most work on this subject involves statistical aspects of data analysis and modeling, the frequency and nature of ecological surprises imply that uncertainty cannot be easily tamed through improved analytical procedures, and that prudent management of both exploited and conserved communities will require precautionary and adaptive management approaches.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The connection between the health of humans, animals, and the environments in which they live have been well recognized and have recently been referred to as one health, one medicine. An example of the interconnectedness of human, animal, and ecosystem health is provided by the situation facing southern sea otters off the US Pacific coast.
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 01/2008; 231(11):1648-52. · 1.72 Impact Factor