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Evolution's Impact On Ecosystems Shown Directly For First Time

Date:
April 12, 2009
Source:
University of British Columbia
Summary:
Scientists have come to agree that different environments impact the evolution of new species. Now experiments are showing for the first time that the reverse is also true.

Three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus).
Credit: Ron Offermans / Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Scientists have come to agree that different environments impact the evolution of new species. Now experiments conducted at the University of British Columbia are showing for the first time that the reverse is also true.

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Researchers from the UBC Biodiversity Research Centre created mini-ecosystems in large aquatic tanks using different species of three-spine stickleback fish and saw substantial differences in the ecosystems in as little as 11 weeks.

Their findings are published in the April 1 Advanced Online Publication of the journal Nature.

Stickleback fish originated in the ocean but began populating freshwater lakes and streams following the last ice age. Over the past 10,000 years – a relatively short time span in evolutionary terms – different species with distinct physical traits have emerged in some fresh water lakes.

The UBC study involved new species found in British Columbia lakes that have evolved distinct physical traits: limnetic sticklebacks (smaller open water dwellers with narrow mouths), benthic sticklebacks (larger bottom dwellers with a wide gape) and a generalist species to represent the probable ancestor of the two species.

“Simply by what they eat and how they live, even young species that have ‘recently’ diversified can have a major impact on their food web,” says study lead author Luke Harmon, who conducted the study while a post-doctoral fellow at UBC. He is now an assistant professor at the University of Idaho. “This study adds to a broader body of literature showing that species diversity matters in important ways.”

Further analysis showed the tanks with the two newest species had larger molecules of dissolved organic carbon, or bits of decaying plants and animals. This prevented sunlight from penetrating the water and inhibited plant growth. “Our study shows that through evolution, sticklebacks can engineer the light environment of their own ecosystems,” says co-author Blake Matthews, a UBC post-doctoral fellow who is now a researcher at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology. “It also demonstrates how speciation of a predator might alter the evolutionary course of other organisms in the food web.”

“As new species arise from a common ancestor and evolve new ways of exploiting the environment, each inadvertently reshapes the dynamics of the ecosystem around it,” says co-author UBC Prof. Dolph Schluter. “We are just beginning to understand how.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of British Columbia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Luke J. Harmon, Blake Matthews, Simone Des Roches, Jonathan M. Chase, Jonathan B. Shurin, Dolph Schluter. Evolutionary diversification in stickleback affects ecosystem functioning. Nature, 2009; DOI: 10.1038/nature07974

Cite This Page:

University of British Columbia. "Evolution's Impact On Ecosystems Shown Directly For First Time." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 April 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090401181234.htm>.
University of British Columbia. (2009, April 12). Evolution's Impact On Ecosystems Shown Directly For First Time. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 30, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090401181234.htm
University of British Columbia. "Evolution's Impact On Ecosystems Shown Directly For First Time." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090401181234.htm (accessed January 30, 2015).

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