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.

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 April 18, 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 April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) Dairy farmers and ethnic groups in Vermont are both benefiting from a unique collaborative effort that's feeding a growing need for fresh and affordable goat meat. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Great British Farmland Boom

The Great British Farmland Boom

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 17, 2014) Britain's troubled Co-operative Group is preparing to cash in on nearly 18,000 acres of farmland in one of the biggest UK land sales in decades. As Ivor Bennett reports, the market timing couldn't be better, with farmland prices soaring over 270 percent in the last 10 years. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction

Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) With plenty of honking, flapping, and fluttering, more than three dozen Caribbean flamingos at Zoo Miami were rounded up today as the iconic exhibit was closed for renovations. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Change of Diet Helps Crocodile Business

Change of Diet Helps Crocodile Business

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 16, 2014) Crocodile farming has been a challenge in Zimbabwe in recent years do the economic collapse and the financial crisis. But as Ciara Sutton reports one of Europe's biggest suppliers of skins to the luxury market has come up with an unusual survival strategy - vegetarian food. 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:
from the past week

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