We estimate the extent of ecological impacts of the invasive Asian paper wasp across different landscapes in New Zealand. We used: (i) a baseline distribution layer (modelled via MaxEnt); (ii) Asian paper wasp nest density (from >460 field plots, related to their preferences for specific land cover categories); and (iii) and their foraging intensity (rates of foraging success, and the time available to forage on a seasonal basis). Using geographic information systems this information is combined and modelled across different landscapes in New Zealand in a step-wise selection process. The highest densities of Asian paper wasps were in herbaceous saline vegetation, followed closely by built-up areas, and then scrub and shrubland. Nest densities of 34 per ha, and occupancy rates of 0.27 were recorded for herbaceous saline vegetation habitats. However, the extent of impacts of the Asian paper wasp remains relatively restricted because of narrow climate tolerances and spatial restriction of preferred habitats. A step-wise process based on geographic information systems and species distribution models, in combination with factors such as distribution, density, and predation, create a useful tool that allows the extent of impacts of invasive species to be assessed across large spatial scales. These models will be useful for conservation managers as they provide easy visual interpretation of results, and can help prioritise where direct conservation action or control of the invader are required.
Methylmercury (MeHg) is a contaminant of global concern that bioaccumulates and bioamagnifies in marine food webs. Lower trophic level fauna are important conduits of MeHg from sediment and water to estuarine and coastal fish harvested for human consumption. However, the sources and pathways of MeHg to these coastal fisheries are poorly known particularly the potential for transfer of MeHg from the sediment to biotic compartments. Across a broad gradient of human land impacts, we analyzed MeHg concentrations in food webs at ten estuarine sites in the Northeast US (from the Hackensack Meadowlands, NJ to the Gulf of Maine). MeHg concentrations in water column particulate material, but not in sediments, were predictive of MeHg concentrations in fish (killifish and Atlantic silversides). Moreover, MeHg concentrations were higher in pelagic fauna than in benthic-feeding fauna suggesting that MeHg delivery to the water column from methylation sites from within or outside of the estuary may be an important driver of MeHg bioaccumulation in estuarine pelagic food webs. In contrast, bulk sediment MeHg concentrations were only predictive of concentrations of MeHg in the infaunal worms. Our results across a broad gradient of sites demonstrate that the pathways of MeHg to lower trophic level estuarine organisms are distinctly different between benthic deposit feeders and forage fish. Thus, even in systems with contaminated sediments, transfer of MeHg into estuarine food webs maybe driven more by the efficiency of processes that determine MeHg input and bioavailability in the water column.
The prey range of the invasive Asian paper wasp, Polistes chinensis antennalis, was studied using molecular diagnostics. Nests of paper wasps were collected from urban residential and salt marsh habitats, larvae were removed and dissected, and DNA in the gut of the paper wasp larvae was amplified and sequenced with cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI). Seventy percent of samples (211/299) yielded medium-to high-quality sequences, and prey identification was achieved using BLAST searches in BOLD. A total of 42 taxa were identified from 211 samples. Lepidoptera were the majority of prey, with 39 taxa from 91% of samples. Diptera was a relatively small component of prey (three taxa, 19 samples). Conclusive species-level identification of prey was possible for 67% of samples, and genus-level identification, for another 12% of samples. The composition of prey taken was different between the two habitats, with 2.5× more native prey species being taken in salt marsh compared with urban habitats. The results greatly extend the prey range of this invasive species. The technique is a more effective and efficient approach than relying on the collection of "prey balls", or morphological identification of prey, for the study of paper wasps.
Marine food webs are the most important link between the global contaminant, methylmercury (MeHg), and human exposure through consumption of seafood. Warming temperatures may increase human exposure to MeHg, a potent neurotoxin, by increasing MeHg production as well as bioaccumulation and trophic transfer through marine food webs. Studies of the effects of temperature on MeHg bioaccumulation are rare and no study has specifically related temperature to MeHg fate by linking laboratory experiments with natural field manipulations in coastal ecosystems. We performed laboratory and field experiments on MeHg accumulation under varying temperature regimes using the killifish, Fundulus heteroclitus. Temperature treatments were established in salt pools on a coastal salt marsh using a natural temperature gradient where killifish fed on natural food sources. Temperatures were manipulated across a wider range in laboratory experiments with killifish exposed to MeHg enriched food. In both laboratory microcosms and field mesocosms, MeHg concentrations in killifish significantly increased at elevated temperatures. Moreover, in field experiments, other ancillary variables (salinity, MeHg in sediment, etc.) did not relate to MeHg bioaccumulation. Modeling of laboratory experimental results suggested increases in metabolic rate as a driving factor. The elevated temperatures we tested are consistent with predicted trends in climate warming, and indicate that in the absence of confounding factors, warmer sea surface temperatures could result in greater in bioaccumulation of MeHg in fish, and consequently, increased human exposure.
Because invasive species threaten the integrity of natural ecosystems, a major goal in ecology is to develop predictive models to determine which species may become widespread and where they may invade. Indeed, considerable progress has been made in understanding the factors that influence the local pattern of spread for specific invaders and the factors that are correlated with the number of introduced species that have become established in a given region. However, few studies have examined the relative importance of multiple drivers of invasion success for widespread species at global scales. Here, we use a dataset of >5,000 presence/absence records to examine the interplay between climatic suitability, biotic resistance by native taxa, human-aided dispersal, and human modification of habitats, in shaping the distribution of one of the worlds most notorious invasive species, the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile). Climatic suitability and the extent of human modification of habitats are primarily responsible for the distribution of this global invader. However, we also found some evidence for biotic resistance by native communities. Somewhat surprisingly, and despite the often cited importance of propagule pressure as a crucial driver of invasions, metrics of the magnitude of international traded commodities among countries were not related to global distribution patterns. Together, our analyses on the global-scale distribution of this invasive species provide strong evidence for the interplay of biotic and abiotic determinants of spread and also highlight the challenges of limiting the spread and subsequent impact of highly invasive species.
Mercury is a ubiquitous contaminant in aquatic ecosystems, posing a significant health risk to humans and wildlife that eat fish. Mercury accumulates in aquatic food webs as methylmercury (MeHg), a particularly toxic and persistent organic mercury compound. While mercury in the environment originates largely from anthropogenic activities, MeHg accumulation in freshwater aquatic food webs is not a simple function of local or regional mercury pollution inputs. Studies show that even sites with similar mercury inputs can produce fish with mercury concentrations ranging over an order of magnitude. While much of the foundational work to identify the drivers of variation in mercury accumulation has focused on freshwater lakes, mercury contamination in stream ecosystems is emerging as an important research area. Here, we review recent research on mercury accumulation in stream-dwelling organisms. Taking a hierarchical approach, we identify a suite of characteristics of individual consumers, food webs, streams, watersheds, and regions that are consistently associated with elevated MeHg concentrations in stream fish. We delineate a conceptual, mechanistic basis for explaining the ecological processes that underlie this vulnerability to MeHg. Key factors, including suppressed individual growth of consumers, low rates of primary and secondary production, hydrologic connection to methylation sites (e.g., wetlands), heavily forested catchments, and acidification are frequently associated with increased MeHg concentrations in fish across both streams and lakes. Hence, we propose that these interacting factors define a syndrome of characteristics that drive high MeHg production and bioaccumulation rates across these freshwater aquatic ecosystems. Finally, based on an understanding of the ecological drivers of MeHg accumulation, we identify situations when anthropogenic effects and management practices could significantly exacerbate or ameliorate MeHg accumulation in stream fish.
Mercury (Hg) is a potent toxin that biomagnifies in aquatic food webs. Large fish generally have higher Hg concentrations than small fish of the same species. However, models predict that fish that grow large faster should have lower Hg concentrations than small, slow-growing fish due to somatic growth dilution (SGD). We examined the relationship between Hg concentrations and growth rate in fish using a large-scale field experiment. Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) fry hatched under uniform initial conditions were released at eighteen sites in natural streams, collected after one growing season, and Hg concentration and growth measured. As expected for Hg accumulation from food, mercury concentrations in salmon tracked Hg concentrations in their prey. Nonetheless, large, fast-growing salmon had lower Hg concentrations than small, slow-growing salmon, consistent with SGD. While prey Hg concentration accounted for 59% of the explained variation in salmon Hg concentration across sites, salmon growth rate accounted for 38% of the explained variation independent of prey Hg concentration. A mass-balance Hg accumulation model shows that such SGD occurs when fast growth is associated with high growth efficiency. Fish growth is tremendously variable and sensitive to anthropogenic impacts, so SGD of Hg has important implications for fisheries management.
To assess the effect of rapid individual growth on trace element concentrations in fish, we measured concentrations of seven trace elements (As, Cd, Cs, Hg, Pb, Se, Zn) in stream-dwelling Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) from 15 sites encompassing a 10-fold range in salmon growth. All salmon were hatched under uniform conditions, released into streams, and sampled approximately 120 days later for trace element analysis. For most elements, element concentrations in salmon tracked those in their prey. Fast-growing salmon had lower concentrations of all elements than slow growers, after accounting for prey concentrations. This pattern held for essential and nonessential elements, as well as elements that accumulate from food and those that can accumulate from water. At the sites with the fastest salmon growth, trace element concentrations in salmon were 37% (Cs) to 86% (Pb) lower than at sites where growth was suppressed. Given that concentrations were generally below levels harmful to salmon and that the pattern was consistent across all elements, we suggest that dilution of elements in larger biomass led to lower concentrations in fast-growing fish. Streams that foster rapid, efficient fish growth may produce fish with lower concentrations of elements potentially toxic for human and wildlife consumers.
Marine food webs are important links between Hg in the environment and human exposure via consumption of fish. Estuaries contain sediment repositories of Hg and are also critical habitat for marine fish and shellfish species consumed by humans. MeHg biotransfers from sites of production in estuarine sediments to higher trophic levels via both benthic and pelagic pathways. In this study, we investigated the potential for Hg biotransfer to estuarine food webs across a Hg contamination gradient in the Gulf of Maine. Despite the variation in sediment Hg concentrations across sites (>100 fold), Hg concentrations in biota ranged by only 2-4 fold for each species across sites. Sediment contamination alone explained some variation in Hg and MeHg concentrations in biota across sites. However, biogeochemical and ecological factors also explained significant variation in Hg bioaccumulation across species. Contaminated sites had higher total organic carbon concentrations in sediments, which related to a decrease in Hg bioaccumulation (measured as biota-sediment concentration factors). Moreover, concentrations of MeHg were higher in pelagic-feeding than benthic-feeding fauna (determined from delta13C), indicating the importance of pelagic pathways in transferring MeHg. Lastly, the proportion of total Hg as MeHg increased with trophic level (measured as delta15N). These results reveal the importance of both biogeochemical and ecological factors in determining the bioavailability and trophic transfer of MeHg in estuarine food webs.
Natural History Collections (NHCs) play a central role as sources of data for biodiversity and conservation. Yet, few NHCs have examined whether the data they contain is adequately representative of local biodiversity. I examined over 15,000 databased records of Hymenoptera from 1435 locations across New Zealand collected over the past 90 years. These records are assessed in terms of their geographical, temporal, and environmental coverage across New Zealand. Results showed that the spatial coverage of records was significantly biased, with the top four areas contributing over 51% of all records. Temporal biases were also evident, with a large proportion (40%) of records collected within a short time period. The lack of repeat visits to specific locations indicated that the current set of NHC records would be of limited use for long-term ecological research. Consequently, analyses and interpretation of historical data, for example, shifts in community composition, would be limited. However, in general, NHC records provided good coverage of the diversity of New Zealand habitats and climatic environments, although fewer NHC records were represented at cooler temperatures (<5°C) and the highest rainfalls (>5000 mm/yr). Analyses of NHCs can be greatly enhanced by using simple techniques that examine collection records in terms of environmental and geographical space. NHCs that initiate a systematic sampling strategy will provide higher quality data for biodiversity research than ad hoc or point samples, as is currently the norm. Although NHCs provide a rich source of information they could be far better utilised in a range of large-scale ecological and conservation studies.
Low productivity in aquatic ecosystems is associated with reduced individual growth of fish and increased concentrations of methylmercury (MeHg) in fish and their prey. However, many stream-dwelling fish species can use terrestrially-derived food resources, potentially subsidizing growth at low-productivity sites, and, because terrestrial resources have lower MeHg concentrations than aquatic resources, preventing an increase in diet-borne MeHg accumulation. We used a large-scale field study to evaluate relationships among terrestrial subsidy use, growth, and MeHg concentrations in two stream-dwelling fish species across an in-stream productivity gradient. We sampled young-of-the-year brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) and Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), potential competitors with similar foraging habits, from 20 study sites in streams in New Hampshire and Massachusetts that encompassed a wide range of aquatic prey biomass. Stable isotope analysis showed that brook trout used more terrestrial resources than Atlantic salmon. Over their first growing season, Atlantic salmon tended to grow larger than brook trout at sites with high aquatic prey biomass, but brook grew two-fold larger than Atlantic salmon at sites with low aquatic prey biomass. The MeHg concentrations of brook trout and Atlantic salmon were similar at sites with high aquatic prey biomass and the MeHg concentrations of both species increased at sites with low prey biomass and high MeHg in aquatic prey. However, brook trout had three-fold lower MeHg concentrations than Atlantic salmon at low-productivity, high-MeHg sites. These results suggest that differential use of terrestrial resource subsidies reversed the growth asymmetry between potential competitors across a productivity gradient and, for one species, moderated the effect of low in-stream productivity on MeHg accumulation.
Little is known about differences among trace elements in patterns of bioaccumulation in freshwater food webs. Our goal was to identify patterns in bioaccumulation of different elements that are large and consistent enough to discern despite variation across lakes. We measured methylmercury (MeHg) and trace element (As, Cd, Hg, Pb, and Zn) concentrations in food web components of seven New England lakes on 3-5 dates per lake, and contrasted patterns of bioaccumulation across lakes, metals and seasons. In each lake, trace element concentrations were compared across trophic levels, including three size fractions of zooplankton, planktivorous fish, and piscivorous fish. The trophic position of each food web component was estimated from N isotope analysis. Trace element concentrations varied widely among taxa, lakes and sampling dates. Yet, we identified four consistent patterns of bioaccumulation that were consistent across lakes: (1) MeHg concentration increased (i.e., was biomagnified) and Pb concentration decreased (i.e., was biodiminished) with increased trophic position. (2) Zinc concentration (as with MeHg) was higher in fish than in zooplankton, but overall variation in Zn concentration (unlike MeHg) was low. (3) Arsenic and Cd concentrations (as with Pb) were lower in fish than in zooplankton, but (unlike Pb) were not significantly correlated with trophic position within zooplankton or fish groups. (4) Average summer concentrations of As, Pb, Hg, and MeHg in zooplankton significantly predicted their concentrations in either planktivorous or piscivorous fish. Our secondary goal was to review sampling approaches in forty-five published studies to determine the extent to which current sampling programs facilitate cross-lake and cross-study comparisons of bioaccumulation. We found that studies include different components of the food web and sample too infrequently to enable strong cross-lake and cross-study comparisons. We discuss sampling strategies that would improve our capacity to identify consistent patterns of bioaccumulation and drivers of elevated trace element concentrations under naturally high levels of variability.
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