Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Fish Extinctions Alter Critical Nutrients In Water, Study Shows

Date:
March 9, 2007
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
A Cornell study using computer simulations has teased out how extinctions of freshwater fish can affect the availability of certain nutrients that other species rely on.

Peter McIntyre. (Credit: Image courtesy of Cornell University)
Credit: Image courtesy of Cornell University

Ecosystems are such intricate webs of connections that few studies have been able to explore exactly what happens when a species dies out.

Now, a Cornell study using computer simulations has teased out how the disappearance of a freshwater fish can affect the availability of certain nutrients that other species rely on.

Algae, at the base of the food chain, for example, rely on fish to cycle back into the water such nutrients as nitrogen and phosphorus, which are otherwise locked up in animal or plant cells. Fish excrete dissolved nutrients back into the water, making them available to algae, which need them to grow.

The study, published in the Feb. 27 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that overfishing could threaten the overall health of an ecosystem because it targets important fish species that play major roles in recycling nutrients. In fact, 20 percent of fish species accounted for more than half of all the recycled nutrients in the ecosystems studied, the computer simulations found.

"The loss of the most heavily fished species led to the fastest declines in nutrient recycling," said lead author Peter McIntyre, a postdoctoral researcher at Wright State University who was a graduate student in Cornell's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology when he conducted the study. "Fishermen are targeting relatively large and abundant species that happen to play a major role in nutrient recycling."

The simulations, which relied on data from Rio Las Marias, a Venezeulan river, and Lake Tanganyika, a massive lake bordering Tanzania, Zaire, Zambia and Burundi, also shed light on the roles that surviving species might play in replacing the lost nutrients. In both ecosystems studied, when surviving species successfully picked up the slack in nutrient recycling left by an extinct species, nitrogen and phosphorus were maintained at 80 percent of their starting values until over half the total number of species were lost.

Studies of complex ecosystems, especially those involving large, highly mobile fish, are almost impossible to carry out in the wild, but new methods are helping researchers better understand these systems.

"Computer simulations provide a means to assess patterns of species loss in a system in which we just cannot do complex experiments," said co-author Alex Flecker, Cornell associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who served as McIntyre's adviser. "But we have to be aware that there is a whole set of assumptions that goes into simulating species loss."

For example, it is unknown whether surviving species can truly compensate for extinctions. In a study of two species of fish in the Venezuelan river that eat mud from the river bottom, Flecker found that the rarer of the two species was unable to make up for the loss of the more common one. Thus, it appears that human overfishing of the common species, coporo (Prochilodus mariae), may have large effects on the ecosystem, in part because of its large contribution to nitrogen recycling.

The current study also revealed that species that heavily recycle nitrogen are not always the same ones that recycle the most phosphorus. These differences would make it difficult for conservationists to prioritize species to protect.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Cornell Program in Biogeochemistry and Environmental Biocomplexity.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. The original article was written by Krishna Ramanujan, Cornell Chronicle. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Fish Extinctions Alter Critical Nutrients In Water, Study Shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 March 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070302171317.htm>.
Cornell University. (2007, March 9). Fish Extinctions Alter Critical Nutrients In Water, Study Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070302171317.htm
Cornell University. "Fish Extinctions Alter Critical Nutrients In Water, Study Shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070302171317.htm (accessed September 30, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) A new study published by the World Wide Fund for Nature found that more than half of the world's wildlife population has declined since 1970. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
California University Designs Sustainable Winery

California University Designs Sustainable Winery

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 27, 2014) Amid California's worst drought in decades, scientists at UC Davis design a sustainable winery that includes a water recycling system. Vanessa Johnston reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Argentina Worries Over Decline of Soybean Prices

Argentina Worries Over Decline of Soybean Prices

AFP (Sep. 27, 2014) The drop in price of soy on the international market is a cause for concern in Argentina, as soybean exports are a major source of income for Latin America's third largest economy. Duration: 01:10 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mama Bear, Cubs Hang out in California Backyard

Mama Bear, Cubs Hang out in California Backyard

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 27, 2014) A mama bear and her two cubs climb trees, wrestle and take naps in the backyard of a Monrovia, California home. Vanessa Johnston reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins