Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Marine plants can flee to avoid predators: First observation of predator avoidance behavior by phytoplankton

Date:
September 29, 2012
Source:
University of Rhode Island
Summary:
Scientists have made the first observation of a predator avoidance behavior by a species of phytoplankton, a microscopic marine plant. The scientists made the unexpected observation while studying the interactions between phytoplankton and zooplankton.

Scientists at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography have made the first observation of a predator avoidance behavior by a species of phytoplankton, a microscopic marine plant. Susanne Menden-Deuer, associate professor of oceanography, and doctoral student Elizabeth Harvey made the unexpected observation while studying the interactions between phytoplankton and zooplankton.

Related Articles


Their discovery will be published in the September 28 issue of the journal PLOS ONE.

"It has been well observed that phytoplankton can control their movements in the water and move toward light and nutrients," Menden-Deuer said. "What hasn't been known is that they respond to predators by swimming away from them. We don't know of any other plants that do this."

While imaging 3-dimensional predator-prey interactions, the researchers noted that the phytoplankton Heterosigma akashiwo swam differently in the presence of predators, and groups of them shifted their distribution away from the predators.

In a series of laboratory experiments, Menden-Deuer and Harvey found that the phytoplankton not only flee when in the presence of the predatory zooplankton, but they also flee when in water that had previously contained the predators. They found only a minimal effect when the phytoplankton were exposed to predators that do not feed on phytoplankton.

"The phytoplankton can clearly sense the predator is there. They flee even from the chemical scent of the predator but are most agitated when sensing a feeding predator," said Menden-Deuer.

When the scientists provided the phytoplankton with a refuge to avoid the predator -- an area of low salinity water that the predators cannot tolerate -- the phytoplankton moved to the refuge.

The important question these observations raise, according to Menden-Deuer, is how these interactions affect the survival of the prey species.

Measuring survival in the same experiments, the researchers found that fleeing helps the alga survive. Given a chance, the predators will eat all of the phytoplankton in one day if the algae have no safe place in which to escape, but they double every 48 hours if they have a refuge available to flee from predators. Fleeing makes the difference between life and death for this species, said Menden-Deuer.

"One of the puzzling things about some phytoplankton blooms is that they suddenly appear," she said. "Growth and nutrient availability don't always explain the formation of blooms. Our observation of algal fleeing from predators is another mechanism for how blooms could form. Amazingly, looking at individual microscopic behaviors can help to explain a macroscopic phenomenon."

The researchers say there is no way of knowing how common this behavior is or how many other species of phytoplankton also flee from predators, since this is the first observation of such a behavior.

"If it is common among phytoplankton, then it would be a very important process," Menden-Deuer said. "I wouldn't be surprised if other species had that capacity. It would be very beneficial to them."

In future studies, she hopes to observe these behaviors in the ocean and couple it with genetic investigations.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Harvey EL, Menden-Deuer S. Predator-Induced Fleeing Behaviors in Phytoplankton: A New Mechanism for Harmful Algal Bloom Formation? PLoS ONE, 2012; 7(9): e46438 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046438

Cite This Page:

University of Rhode Island. "Marine plants can flee to avoid predators: First observation of predator avoidance behavior by phytoplankton." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 September 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120929140340.htm>.
University of Rhode Island. (2012, September 29). Marine plants can flee to avoid predators: First observation of predator avoidance behavior by phytoplankton. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120929140340.htm
University of Rhode Island. "Marine plants can flee to avoid predators: First observation of predator avoidance behavior by phytoplankton." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120929140340.htm (accessed November 1, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Watch Baby Goose Survive A 400-Foot Cliff Dive

Watch Baby Goose Survive A 400-Foot Cliff Dive

Buzz60 (Oct. 31, 2014) For its nature series Life Story, the BBC profiled the barnacle goose, whose chicks must make a daredevil 400-foot cliff dive from their nests to find food. Jen Markham has the astonishing video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
World's Salamanders At Risk From Flesh-Eating Fungus

World's Salamanders At Risk From Flesh-Eating Fungus

Newsy (Oct. 31, 2014) The import of salamanders around the globe is thought to be contributing to the spread of a deadly fungus. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Alcoholic Drinks In The E.U. Could Get Calorie Labels

Alcoholic Drinks In The E.U. Could Get Calorie Labels

Newsy (Oct. 31, 2014) A health group in the United Kingdom has called for mandatory calorie labels on alcoholic beverages in the European Union. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Malaria Threat in Liberia as Fight Against Ebola Rages

Malaria Threat in Liberia as Fight Against Ebola Rages

AFP (Oct. 31, 2014) Focus on treating the Ebola epidemic in Liberia means that treatment for malaria, itself a killer, is hard to come by. MSF are now undertaking the mass distribution of antimalarials in Monrovia. Duration: 00:38 Video provided by AFP
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