Project

RSF 19-14-00092 "Wasp waist" of the ecosystems of the northern seas: long-term dynamics, population structure, trophic links of common pelagic species of the White and Baltic Seas

Goal: Currently, high-latitude marine ecosystems undergo significant changes as a result of global climate change and anthropogenic pressure. In order to avoid negative effects of these changes, effective ecosystem management decisions, based on comprehensive scientific information on ecosystem functioning, are needed. It is very difficult to get thus information because of necessity to study a lot of species. In the current project proposal, we are going to study the trophic group of key planktivorous fish species of the ecosystem, that allow to study mechanisms of ecosystem changes. Upper and lower trophic levels of marine ecosystems are typically characterized by high species diversity, but intermediate level usually consists of several common and abundant species that control main energy and nutrient flows. This trophic level is usually called by scientists as “wasp waist”. Any changes in the abundance of these species well reflect a change in the whole ecosystem and they can be used as effective indicator species of ecosystem changes. In this project we will focus mostly on the three such species which are the most common in the White Sea and the Gulf of Finland of the Baltic Sea – threespine stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus and herrings Clupea pallasii and C. harengus. We will undertake the comprehensive ecological and population analysis of these species - their spatial distribution, long-term changes, population structure, trophic relationships, parasite-host relationships, intraspecific phylogeography. We are going to use a wide diversity of methods: study of size-age composition of samples, morphological and molecular genetic methods, population modeling, behavior, analysis of stable isotopes of nitrogen and carbon and lipid composition to estimate trophic condition/status, photo and video registration etc. The results of the research will let us to understand the trends and factors involved in the longterm changes in populations of these species as well as the changes in whole temperate and subarctic marine ecosystems, that could be driven by the climate change and rising anthropogenic impact.

Date: 1 April 2019 - 1 December 2021

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Project log

Ahmed Dorgham
added a research item
Sexual dimorphism (SD) in the threespine stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus reflects the different roles of the sexes in reproduction and their adaptations to different ecological niches. We quantified SD in one population of marine stickleback from the White Sea, collected during the spawning period from three spawning grounds, each at a distance of 5 km or less from the others. We used a landmark-based approach to quantify variation in 44 morphometric linear traits. In total, 749 females and 693 males were analyzed. In males, anterior body parts are larger — the base of the caudal fin and armor structures such as the first and second dorsal spines and the pelvic spine. Females have larger posterior bodies — the abdomen, pelvic girdle and the third dorsal spine. The SD of caudal body parts exhibits complex patterns. In White Sea threespine stickleback, SD patterns are generally similar to other populations of the species, but more often show male-biased patterns. Female-biased size SD may be associated with the female biased sex ratio of White Sea stickleback.
Anna S. Genelt-Yanovskya
added a research item
Трехиглая колюшка Gasterosteus aculeatus (Linnaeus, 1758) на данный момент самая многочисленная пелагическая рыба Белого моря. Взрослая колюшка проводит большую часть года в пелагиали за исключением нескольких недель в году, когда приходит к берегам на нерест. Под пелагиалью в данном исследовании принимаются все воды, отдаленные от берега более чем на 200 м, и с глубинами более 10 м, т.е. там, где точно не могли нереститься колюшки. Целью данной работы является сравнение спектра питания трехиглой колюшки в пелагической и прибрежной зонах в летний период на примере Кандалакшского залива Белого моря.
Anna S. Genelt-Yanovskya
added an update
Another trip to the Gulf of Finland already! We've decided to expand our research area in search for stickleback, including new potential spawning grounds. Here are our new research areas in total of 6 new spots - 4 on the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland and 2 on the southern! These new areas were rich not only with beautiful views, but with fish as well - we caught not only cyprinids (such as this stunning common rudd), but also a beautiful threespine stickleback male in amazing mating coloration!
 
Anna S. Genelt-Yanovskya
added a research item
Обзор посвящен обобщению и анализу данных по трехиглой колюшке Gasterosteus aculeatus Белого моря, которая в настоящее время является наиболее многочисленной рыбой водоема и играет важную роль в сообществах его прибрежной зоны и открытых вод. Численность колюшки была высокой в 1920– 1940 гг., сильно снизилась в период с конца 1960-х по конец 1990-х годов и снова увеличилась с конца 1990-х годов, показывая положительную связь с температурой. Для выяснения механизмов изменения численности популяции колюшки и ее роли в морской экосистеме проведены исследования различных аспектов популяционной биологии вида (межгодовой и сезонной динамики численности, пространственной гетерогенности, возрастной и половой структуры, липидного и жирно-кислотного статуса, хоминга и флуктуирующей асимметрии), а также ее взаимодействия с другими организмами (питание взрослых и молоди, роль в питании хищных рыб, связи с морской травой, состав и пространственное распределение паразитов, связи с видами-конкурентами).
Dmitry Lajus
added 3 research items
This study analyses the potential of stochastic phenotypic variation for investigating the population biology of Eurytemora . Stochastic variation is the third component of phenotypic variance, standing on equal footing with genotypic variation and phenotypic plasticity. This is a manifestation of developmental instability and usually increases under stress. In morphological traits, stochastic variation is most often studied using fluctuating asymmetry (FA) of bilateral traits. Here, using data on the FA of nine populations of three Eurytemora species from Europe and North America, we found no correlation between FA and temperature, salinity or tidal amplitude. Invasive American E. carolleeae in the Gulf of Finland (Baltic Sea) had lower FA than the same species in its native Chesapeake Bay, or than E. affinis in its native Gulf of Finland. This pattern may be caused by global warming, which brought Chesapeake Bay temperatures beyond E. carolleeae ’s optimal conditions, but made the Gulf of Finland a more suitable environment. Stochastic variation in life history traits is technically more difficult to study, but it may provide important information on fitness. In particular, it manifests in bet-hedging, a risk-spreading strategy beneficial in unpredictable environments. As resting eggs are common in Eurytemora , bet-hedging can be considered a genus strategy. Understanding how stochastic variation contributes to total phenotypic variance may help to interpret changes under unpredictable environmental conditions. Therefore, studies of stochastic phenotypic variation may supply information about the population biology of Eurytemora and other copepods.
The review addresses different types of dormancy on fish. It can be subdivided into two groups. The first is adult aestivation. This allows fish to survive droughts in low latitude freshwater environments (several species from various families), or ice coverage periods causing anoxic conditions in high latitudes (cyprinid Carassius spp.). It is a facultative phenomenon induced by various environmental cues (but not photoperiods), accompanied by specific biochemical adaptations that slow down the metabolism of aestivating individuals and allow their bodies to tolerate pollution from metabolic waste products. The second, more variable group is embryonic diapauses. These obligatory processes are well-integrated into the life cycle of fishes. It occurs in more than 30 killifish species (order Cyprinodontiformes) as a key adaptation that significantly expands their environmental range to include ephemeral pools. Diapause in several elasmobranch species occurs in the mother’s body. In bitterling Acheilognathus, diapause is a key adaptation to effectively use their limiting resource—the large bivalves where bitterlings deposit their eggs. Cessation of female gonad development after completing vitellogenesis is common in many species of high latitudes. This phenomenon has not been considered in the context of fish dormancy before, but biologically it fulfills the same functions as embryonic diapause and thus should be considered within the same framework. The effectiveness of life strategies containing diapause depends very much on both the sensitivity of dormant organisms to environmental stresses and the accuracy of their responses to environmental cues––primary changes in photoperiod or temperature to induce or terminate dormancy. The optimal strategy should balance phenotypic plasticity and bet-hedging as tools to maximize the fitness of diapausing organisms in partially predicted environments.
A major challenge of contemporary marine science is disentangling consequences of climate change from other impacts, and studying non-target species and using historical resources to see long-term trends can meet this need. However, such data can be fragmented, and here, we demonstrate the potential of leveraging across sources for insight. We assembled a variety of historical sources such as scientific and personal observations, anecdotal information, and archival fisheries data to create an abundance time series on threespine stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus in the White Sea starting in the late 19th century—the longest time series for this species. Stickleback peaked during the warm period of the 1920–1940s and declined during the colder period of the 1950–1990s and now is the most numerous vertebrate in the sea. Analyses of historical and recent time series based on our own data (2007–2019) showed that stickleback abundance decreases during colder winters. It is not associated with zooplankton biomass, positively correlated with herring Clupea sp. catches and negatively with navaga Eleginus navaga catches. Large population size and food web interactions suggest that change in stickleback abundance has the potential to affect the entire White Sea ecosystem.
Anna S. Genelt-Yanovskya
added an update
New season - new catch!!! Work on the Gulf of Finland has officially begun! Despite the cold, we went there hoping to find three-spined stickleback at the very beginning of its spawning period, and we got lucky! We were able to catch a few specimens of the three-spined stickleback, but most fish in our catch were nine-spined sticklebacks.
 
Anna S. Genelt-Yanovskya
added an update
The winter expedition has begun! Despite the arrival of spring, winter is still in full swing on the White Sea! We, however, are not afraid, and had bravely set off in a search for stickleback and herring!
And now we can see the first catch of 2021!
After working in the Koliushkovaya lagoon, we have caught herring and collected plankton samples!
Participants: Evgeny Genelt-Yanovskiy Natalia Polyakova, Anna Demchuk, Ivanov M.V. and Ivanova T.S
 
Anna S. Genelt-Yanovskya
added an update
For the 8th year in a row, at about this time, the seminar of our project is being held - the Stickleback Day. This year it took place on 20 February. Like so many things lately, it was unusual - online. In this regard, we did not have any spatial restrictions on the composition of the participants, and several famous researchers of stickleback biology from different countries took part in the seminar - Jun Kitano from Japan, Jolle Jolles from Germany, Johan Eklof from Sweden and Andrew Hendry from Canada. Their messages covered various aspects of stickleback biology - convergent evolution, behavior under experimental conditions, population dynamics in the Baltic Sea, field experiments in Alaska. This was in the second part of the workshop.
And in the first one, one and a half hour information about our project was given by Dmitry Lajus , Anna Demchuk, Anastasiia Zelenskaia, Ivanov M.V. and Ivanova T.S , mainly aimed at new students and participants. This seminar, in addition to the speakers, was attended by 21 more people from St. Petersburg, Moscow, Murmansk, as well as Belgium, Japan, Canada, Palestine. Thus, both the geography and the topics of our seminar have greatly expanded, and this should contribute to the further successful development of our project. And besides, we have been enriched with valuable communication experience under the current restrictions.
We will soon publish the recordings of the lectures on our YouTube channel. Stay tuned!
 
Anna S. Genelt-Yanovskya
added an update
Now we are at the equator of the Russian Science Foundation grant 19-14-00092 entitled "Wasp waist" of the Northern Sea Ecosystems: Long-Term Dynamics, Population Structure and Trophic Relationships of Mass Pelagic Fish of the White and Baltic Seas. " This grant plays an important role in the development of our project - at the moment we have already received funding from the foundation, significantly exceeding all external funding that we have been able to receive during the existence of the project since 2006!
Organization-wise, our task is to learn how to use these funds in such a way as to increase the sustainability of our project - after all, we have extensive scientific plans even after the funding of the RSF ends! This project, like our stickleback project as a whole, is to achieve a sufficiently ambitious goal - to better understand the mechanisms of ecosystem change. At the same time, we are trying to achieve this goal with means in line with our limited resources, choosing a few of the most informative species - the “wasp waist” species of the ecosystem.
Science-wise, the idea of ​​the project is to study the three-spined stickleback and herring - fish of low trophic levels, which occupy a key position in the ecosystems of the northern seas - White and Baltic, in order to better understand the mechanisms of ecosystem change. The upper and lower trophic levels of marine ecosystems are usually characterized by a relatively high species diversity, while the intermediate one is occupied with only a few mass species that control the main flows of matter and energy. Therefore, this trophic level is often called the "wasp waist" of the ecosystem. It is most often represented by small pelagic planktophagous fish. Changes in the abundance of these species, therefore, reflect changes in the entire ecosystem, and they can be used as effective indicator species of ecosystem rearrangements.
Within the framework of the project, we study the spatial distribution of stickleback and herring, their long-term dynamics, population structure, intraspecific phylogeography, trophic relationships, behavior, and the influence of parasites. For the analysis, we use a variety of methods - the study of size and age composition of the samples, morphological and molecular genetic approaches, population modeling, analysis of stable nitrogen and carbon isotopes, as well as lipid composition for assessing trophic status, tagging, video and photo registration. We expect that the data obtained within the framework of the project will help to better understand the causes of long-term changes not only in the populations of the studied species, but also in the entire ecosystem, which will allow predicting its responses to climate change and anthropogenic impacts.
In general, the work under the grant is proceeding quite successfully, although, of course, the viral epidemic, also affected them - there were less opportunities to communicate with each other - everything had to be translated online, conferences disappeared, and it became more difficult to carry out field work. But we are trying to minimize these inconveniences and even turn them into advantages - to devote more time to things that for some reason we didn’t have before, in particular, popularizing our project on social networks.
On a smaller scale than planned, we are also doing field work this year.
1) Collection of samples with fry seine by the coast of the Gulf of Finland: Demchuk A.S. and Natalia Polyakova July 15, 2020 Photo by Dmitry Lajus
2) Collection of zooplankton samples by the coast of the Gulf of Finland: Ksenia Smirnova and Dmitry Lajus July 15, 2020 Photo by Demchuk A.S.
And this is last year's work on the White Sea
3) Setting of gillnets in Chupa Bay (White Sea) on June 3, 2019: M.V. Ivanov and T.S. Ivanova. Photo by Dmitry Lajus
 
Anna S. Genelt-Yanovskya
added a research item
This review summarizes and analyzes data on the threespine stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus L. of the White Sea, which is currently the most abundant fish in the region and, therefore, plays an important role in inshore and offshore communities. The threespine stickleback was abundant in the 1920s-1940s; its numbers declined significantly between the late 1960s and late 1990s and have increased again since then, showing a positive correlation with water temperature. In order to reveal the mechanisms of changes in the population of this species and to assess its role in the marine ecosystems, various aspects of the population biology of the species (interannual and seasonal population dynamics, spatial heterogeneity, age and sex structure, lipid and fatty acid status, homing, and fluctuating asymmetry), as well as its interactions with other organisms (feeding characteristics of adults and juveniles, role in feeding predatory fish, association with eelgrass, parasite composition and spatial distribution, and relationships with competing species) are analyzed.
Anna S. Genelt-Yanovskya
added a project goal
Currently, high-latitude marine ecosystems undergo significant changes as a result of global climate change and anthropogenic pressure. In order to avoid negative effects of these changes, effective ecosystem management decisions, based on comprehensive scientific information on ecosystem functioning, are needed. It is very difficult to get thus information because of necessity to study a lot of species. In the current project proposal, we are going to study the trophic group of key planktivorous fish species of the ecosystem, that allow to study mechanisms of ecosystem changes. Upper and lower trophic levels of marine ecosystems are typically characterized by high species diversity, but intermediate level usually consists of several common and abundant species that control main energy and nutrient flows. This trophic level is usually called by scientists as “wasp waist”. Any changes in the abundance of these species well reflect a change in the whole ecosystem and they can be used as effective indicator species of ecosystem changes. In this project we will focus mostly on the three such species which are the most common in the White Sea and the Gulf of Finland of the Baltic Sea – threespine stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus and herrings Clupea pallasii and C. harengus. We will undertake the comprehensive ecological and population analysis of these species - their spatial distribution, long-term changes, population structure, trophic relationships, parasite-host relationships, intraspecific phylogeography. We are going to use a wide diversity of methods: study of size-age composition of samples, morphological and molecular genetic methods, population modeling, behavior, analysis of stable isotopes of nitrogen and carbon and lipid composition to estimate trophic condition/status, photo and video registration etc. The results of the research will let us to understand the trends and factors involved in the longterm changes in populations of these species as well as the changes in whole temperate and subarctic marine ecosystems, that could be driven by the climate change and rising anthropogenic impact.