"It's the blending of ecological and evolutionary time," says Freeman, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of zoology. "It's an important development in the arms race between these crabs and these mollusks." Crabs prey on blue mussels by crushing their shells.
Freeman looked at the inducible defense – shell thickening – of blue mussels (Mytlius edulis) in the presence of two invasive crab species in New England, the Asian shore crab Hemigrapsus sanguineus and the green crab Carcinus maenas. While Carcinus was introduced to New England from Europe between 150 and 200 years ago, Hemigrapsus is a relative newcomer, arriving from Asia to New Jersey in 1988. While previous research had established that mussels recognize Carcinus, it had not be determined if they recognize Hemigrapsus. And, crucial to the design of Freeman's study, Hemigrapsus is not present north of mid-coast Maine.
"This set up a chance to look at populations that had been exposed to the predators for varying lengths of time," says Freeman. "We wanted to know, how is it that these mollusks can recognize a crab that is historically not present in North America?"
Freeman exposed mussels native to the northern – above mid-coast Maine – and southern New England to both Carcinus and the Hemigrapsus. Both populations thickened their shells when exposed to waterborne cues of Carcinus, but only the southern mussels – Freeman describes them as "more worldly" – expressed inducible shell thickening in the presence of Hemigrapsus.
"The mussel's inducible response to H. sanguineus reflects natural selection favoring the recognition of this novel predator through rapid evolution of cue specifity or thresholds," Freeman and Byers write.
Findings were consistent in two experiments over two years, one in a laboratory setting in Nahant, Mass., and one in the field at Woods Hole, Mass. "The consistency over two years and two sites really suggests an underlying robust mechanism," says Byers, who is Freeman's dissertation advisor.
While this sort of rapid evolutionary response to predators has been exhibited in some other species, all have been vertebrates. The blue mussel, which Freeman describes as the lab rat of marine biologists, is an invertebrate "that people assume is not very bright," he says. Yet his findings indicate that within the brief span of 15 years, it has evolved an inducible response to a new predator.
How do mussels evolve so quickly? In southern New England, the scientists say, mussels are prey to many crabs as well as other marine species. "When Hemigrapsus came along the mussels' wheels were well-greased to respond," says Byers. "That's our best guess."
Byers helps put the impact of the research in context. Because extensive data does not exist on invasive ecology, "there's a tendency to extrapolate any data you get on an invasive species. But here we show that the response from the prey differs over just a couple hundred kilometers."
And while its "real world" impact is not immediately obvious, Byers suggests that perhaps northern Maine and Canadian shellfishers might consider "beefing up the worldliness of their naïve mussel populations before the Hemigrapsus arrives," he says, suggesting that this could be done by mixing some of the responsive southern mussels into the naïve northern stocks. "Although 15 years is fast to evolve better defenses to your predator, it can be painfully long if you're a shellfisherman," Byers adds.
This paper is one chapter of Freeman's doctoral dissertation, which also explores how mussels respond to sea stars and to multiple predators. He anticipates completing his doctoral work by October 2006, when he will begin a post-doctoral position with UNH research associate professor Fred Short.
Freeman notes that there's one predator mussels will not need to defend themselves against: him. "I used to like them, before I started working with them for my dissertation," he says. "Not anymore."
Beth Potier | EurekAlert!
Safeguarding sustainability through forest certification mapping
27.06.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Dune ecosystem modelling
26.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers
Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...
Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.
At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...
3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects
A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...
Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.
For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...
What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.
To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...
26.07.2017 | Event News
21.07.2017 | Event News
19.07.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
26.07.2017 | Life Sciences
26.07.2017 | Earth Sciences