The nervous system of animals serves the acquisition, memorization and recollection of information. Like animals, plants also acquire a huge amount of information from their environment, yet their capacity to memorize and organize learned behavioral responses has not been demonstrated. In Mimosa pudica-the sensitive plant-the defensive leaf-folding behaviour in response to repeated physical disturbance exhibits clear habituation, suggesting some elementary form of learning. Applying the theory and the analytical methods usually employed in animal learning research, we show that leaf-folding habituation is more pronounced and persistent for plants growing in energetically costly environments. Astonishingly, Mimosa can display the learned response even when left undisturbed in a more favourable environment for a month. This relatively long-lasting learned behavioural change as a result of previous experience matches the persistence of habituation effects observed in many animals.
Deception is ubiquitous in plant and animal kingdoms and is widely thought to provide selective advantages to the individual and evolutionary success to the species. Mimicry, a form of deception whereby an individual imitates their model to advantage by closely resembling their behavior or appearance, is particularly well documented and represented by the peripheral eyespots seen on the wings of many butterfly species. The significance of butterfly eyespots has been convincingly demonstrated to serve as an anti-predatory function either by imitation of a predators own dangerous enemies (intimidation hypothesis) or by deflecting predator strikes toward less-vital parts of the body (deflection hypothesis). A convincing and compelling explanation in butterflies, the functional role of eyespots as anti-predatory devices has become a widely held and firmly entrenched belief that has been freely adopted into other systems. Here we comment on a recent paper that demonstrates a vastly different role for eyespots, that of intra-specific male-male competition, and make the point that even long-held beliefs need to be tested and challenged under different contexts if we are not to be deceived ourselves.
Eyespots on the body of many animals have long been assumed to confer protection against predators, but empirical evidence has recently demonstrated that this may not always be the case and suggested that such markings may also serve other purposes. Clearly, this raises the unresolved question of what functions do these markings have and do they contribute to an individuals evolutionary fitness in the wild. Here, we examined the occurrence of eyespots on the dorsal fin of a coral reef damselfish (Pomacentrus amboinensis), where these markings are typical of the juvenile stage and fade away as the fish approaches sexual maturation to then disappear completely in the vast majority of, but not all, adult individuals. By exploring differences in body shape among age and gender groups, we found that individuals retaining the eyespot into adulthood are all sexually mature males, suggesting that these eyespots may be an adult deceptive signal. Interestingly, the body shape of these individuals resembled more closely that of immature females than mature dominant males. These results suggest that eyespots have multiple roles and their functional significance changes within the lifetime of an animal from being a juvenile advertisement to a deceptive adult signal. Male removal experiments or colour manipulations may be necessary to establish specific functions.
Monitoring changes in coral cover and composition through space and time can provide insights to reef health and assist the focus of management and conservation efforts. We used a meta-analytical approach to assess coral cover data across latitudes 10-35°S along the west Australian coast, including 25 years of data from the Ningaloo region. Current estimates of coral cover ranged between 3 and 44% in coral habitats. Coral communities in the northern regions were dominated by corals from the families Acroporidae and Poritidae, which became less common at higher latitudes. At Ningaloo Reef coral cover has remained relatively stable through time (?28%), although north-eastern and southern areas have experienced significant declines in overall cover. These declines are likely related to periodic disturbances such as cyclones and thermal anomalies, which were particularly noticeable around 1998/1999 and 2010/2011. Linear mixed effects models (LME) suggest latitude explains 10% of the deviance in coral cover through time at Ningaloo. Acroporidae has decreased in abundance relative to other common families at Ningaloo in the south, which might be related to persistence of more thermally and mechanically tolerant families. We identify regions where quantitative time-series data on coral cover and composition are lacking, particularly in north-western Australia. Standardising routine monitoring methods used by management and research agencies at these, and other locations, would allow a more robust assessment of coral condition and a better basis for conservation of coral reefs.
Habitat specificity plays a pivotal role in forming community patterns in coral reef fishes, yet considerable uncertainty remains as to the extent of this selectivity, particularly among newly settled recruits. Here we quantified habitat specificity of juvenile coral reef fish at three ecological levels; algal meadows vs. coral reefs, live vs. dead coral and among different coral morphologies. In total, 6979 individuals from 11 families and 56 species were censused along Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia. Juvenile fishes exhibited divergence in habitat use and specialization among species and at all study scales. Despite the close proximity of coral reef and algal meadows (10s of metres) 25 species were unique to coral reef habitats, and seven to algal meadows. Of the seven unique to algal meadows, several species are known to occupy coral reef habitat as adults, suggesting possible ontogenetic shifts in habitat use. Selectivity between live and dead coral was found to be species-specific. In particular, juvenile scarids were found predominantly on the skeletons of dead coral whereas many damsel and butterfly fishes were closely associated with live coral habitat. Among the coral dependent species, coral morphology played a key role in juvenile distribution. Corymbose corals supported a disproportionate number of coral species and individuals relative to their availability, whereas less complex shapes (i.e. massive & encrusting) were rarely used by juvenile fish. Habitat specialisation by juvenile species of ecological and fisheries importance, for a variety of habitat types, argues strongly for the careful conservation and management of multiple habitat types within marine parks, and indicates that the current emphasis on planning conservation using representative habitat areas is warranted. Furthermore, the close association of many juvenile fish with corals susceptible to climate change related disturbances suggests that identifying and protecting reefs resilient to this should be a conservation priority.
The ubiquitous coenzyme Q (CoQ) is a powerful antioxidant defence against cellular oxidative damage. In fishes, differences in the isoprenoid length of CoQ and its associated antioxidant efficacy have been proposed as an adaptation to different thermal environments. Here, we examine this broad contention by a comparison of the CoQ composition and its redox status in a range of coral reef fishes. Contrary to expectations, most species possessed CoQ(8) and their hepatic redox balance was mostly found in the reduced form. These elevated concentrations of the ubiquinol antioxidant are indicative of a high level of protection required against oxidative stress. We propose that, in contrast to the current paradigm, CoQ variation in coral reef fishes is not a generalized adaptation to thermal conditions, but reflects species-specific ecological habits and physiological constraints associated with oxygen demand.
The dynamic nature of coral reefs offers a rare opportunity to examine the response of ecosystems to disruption due to climate change. In 1998, the Great Barrier Reef experienced widespread coral bleaching and mortality. As a result, cryptobenthic fish assemblages underwent a dramatic phase-shift. Thirteen years, and up to 96 fish generations later, the cryptobenthic fish assemblage has not returned to its pre-bleach configuration. This is despite coral abundances returning to, or exceeding, pre-bleach values. The post-bleach fish assemblage exhibits no evidence of recovery. If these short-lived fish species are a model for their longer-lived counterparts, they suggest that (1) the full effects of the 1998 bleaching event on long-lived fish populations have yet to be seen, (2) it may take decades, or more, before recovery or regeneration of these long-lived species will begin, and (3) fish assemblages may not recover to their previous composition despite the return of corals.
Octopus cyanea is taken as an unregulated, recreationally fished species from the intertidal reefs of Ningaloo, Western Australia. Yet despite its exploitation and importance in many artisanal fisheries throughout the world, little is known about its life history, ecology and vulnerability. We used stylet increment analysis to age a wild O. cyanea population for the first time and gonad histology to examine their reproductive characteristics. O. cyanea conforms to many cephalopod life history generalisations having rapid, non-asymptotic growth, a short life-span and high levels of mortality. Males were found to mature at much younger ages and sizes than females with reproductive activity concentrated in the spring and summer months. The female dominated sex-ratios in association with female brooding behaviours also suggest that larger conspicuous females may be more prone to capture and suggests that this intertidal octopus population has the potential to be negatively impacted in an unregulated fishery. Size at age and maturity comparisons between our temperate bordering population and lower latitude Tanzanian and Hawaiian populations indicated stark differences in growth rates that correlate with water temperatures. The variability in life history traits between global populations suggests that management of O. cyanea populations should be tailored to each unique set of life history characteristics and that stylet increment analysis may provide the integrity needed to accurately assess this.
Globally, coral bleaching has been responsible for a significant decline in both coral cover and diversity over the past two decades. During the summer of 2010-11, anomalous large-scale ocean warming induced unprecedented levels of coral bleaching accompanied by substantial storminess across more than 12° of latitude and 1200 kilometers of coastline in Western Australia (WA).
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