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Zooplankton Show Ability to Adapt to Stress of Starvation and Climate Change

Published on: 07/12/2013
Research Area(s): Coastal Change
Primary Contact(s): quay.dortch@noaa.gov

NCCOS sponsored research on zooplankton response to Harmful Algal Blooms has also yielded information on how zooplankton respond to climate change and environmental stress. Zooplankton play a central role in food webs from phytoplankton to fish and are also important in the biogeochemical cycles of lakes and oceans.

Two recent studies from Dr. Hans Dam of the University of Connecticut show the adaptability of copepods, extremely abundant, planktonic crustaceans, to environmental change and stress, such as lack of food, global warming, ocean acidification, the proliferation of toxic algal blooms, and increasing pollution, eutrophication, and hypoxia. In one experimental study of the copepod Acartia tonsa, Dr. Dam shows that adult males are less tolerant to starvation than adult females and tolerance to starvation is affected by prior diet, age of individuals and time spent as adults. In addition, egg production and hatching success is not affected by female starvation.

In a related study, Dr. Dam reviews the evidence for zooplankton evolutionary adaptation to toxic algal blooms, hypoxia, and climate change. The research review shows that the combination of natural selection gradients and genetic variability among zooplankton populations provides the necessary conditions for genetic fitness and survival in a species. Thus, by inheriting traits promoting survivability, local adaptation resulting from natural selection should happen.

These studies show the importance of understanding sex ratios and genetic adaptability for the long-term survivability of zooplankton populations in the face of environmental change and stress.

For more information, contact Quay.Dortch@noaa.gov.

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