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Concept: Invertebrate


The ability to perceive the number of objects has been known to exist in vertebrates for a few decades, but recent behavioral investigations have demonstrated that several invertebrate species can also be placed on the continuum of numerical abilities shared with birds, mammals, and reptiles. In this review article, we present the main experimental studies that have examined the ability of insects to use numerical information. These studies have made use of a wide range of methodologies, and for this reason it is striking that a common finding is the inability of the tested animals to discriminate numerical quantities greater than four. Furthermore, the finding that bees can not only transfer learnt numerical discrimination to novel objects, but also to novel numerosities, is strongly suggestive of a true, albeit limited, ability to count. Later in the review, we evaluate the available evidence to narrow down the possible mechanisms that the animals might be using to solve the number-based experimental tasks presented to them. We conclude by suggesting avenues of further research that take into account variables such as the animals' age and experience, as well as complementary cognitive systems such as attention and the time sense.

Concepts: Psychology, Insect, Animal, Cognition, Perception, Sense, Chordate, Invertebrate


The aims of the present study were to present a methodology for toxicity tests that can be used when analytical resources to verify the test concentrations are limited, and to evaluate whether the sensitivity of a limited number of Ethiopian species to pesticides differs from literature values for, mainly, temperate species. Acute toxicity tests were performed using three Ethiopian aquatic invertebrate species, one crustacean (Diaphanosoma brachyurum) and two insects (Anopheles pharoensis and Culex pipiens) and using the pesticides endosulfan and diazinon. All species-pesticide combinations were tested in duplicate to estimate the consistency, i.e. the intra-laboratory variation, in test results. Daphnia magna was tested as well to allow the test results to be compared directly with values from the literature. Results indicate that the differences between the EC50s obtained for D. magna in this study and those reported in the literature were less than a factor of 2. This indicates that the methodology used is able to provide credible toxicity values. The results of the duplicated tests showed intra-laboratory variation in EC50 values of up to a factor of 3, with one test showing a difference of a factor of 6 at 48 h. Comparison with available literature results for arthropod species using species sensitivity distributions indicated that the test results obtained in this study fit well in the log-normal distribution of the literature values. We conclude that the methodology of performing multiple tests to check for consistency of test results and performing tests with D. magna for comparison with literature values to check for accuracy is able to provide reliable effect threshold levels and that the tested Ethiopian species did not differ in sensitivity from the arthropod species reported on in the literature.

Concepts: Insect, Arthropod, Crustacean, Toxicology, Gene duplication, Invertebrate, Branchiopoda, Culex


Mass mortality events (MMEs) are rapidly occurring catastrophic demographic events that punctuate background mortality levels. Individual MMEs are staggering in their observed magnitude: removing more than 90% of a population, resulting in the death of more than a billion individuals, or producing 700 million tons of dead biomass in a single event. Despite extensive documentation of individual MMEs, we have no understanding of the major features characterizing the occurrence and magnitude of MMEs, their causes, or trends through time. Thus, no framework exists for contextualizing MMEs in the wake of ongoing global and regional perturbations to natural systems. Here we present an analysis of 727 published MMEs from across the globe, affecting 2,407 animal populations. We show that the magnitude of MMEs has been intensifying for birds, fishes, and marine invertebrates; invariant for mammals; and decreasing for reptiles and amphibians. These shifts in magnitude proved robust when we accounted for an increase in the occurrence of MMEs since 1940. However, it remains unclear whether the increase in the occurrence of MMEs represents a true pattern or simply a perceived increase. Regardless, the increase in MMEs appears to be associated with a rise in disease emergence, biotoxicity, and events produced by multiple interacting stressors, yet temporal trends in MME causes varied among taxa and may be associated with increased detectability. In addition, MMEs with the largest magnitudes were those that resulted from multiple stressors, starvation, and disease. These results advance our understanding of rare demographic processes and their relationship to global and regional perturbations to natural systems.

Concepts: Causality, Death, Demography, Population, Animal, Reptile, Invertebrate, Apparent magnitude


The emulsification of oil at the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) well head relegated a large proportion of resultant hydrocarbon plumes to the deep sea, facilitated the incorporation of oil droplets into microbial and planktonic food web, and limited the severity of direct, wetland oiling to coastal Louisiana. Nevertheless, many transient fish and invertebrate species rely on offshore surface waters for egg and larval transport before settling in coastal habitats, thereby potentially impacting the recruitment of transient species to coastal nursery habitats quite distant from the well site. We compared the utilization of salt-marsh habitats by transient and resident nekton before and after the DWH accident using data obtained from an oyster reef restoration project in coastal Alabama. Our sampling activities began in the summer preceding the DWH spill and continued almost two years following the accident. Overall, we did not find significant differences in the recruitment of marsh-associated resident and transient nekton in coastal Alabama following the DWH accident. Our results, therefore, provide little evidence for severe acute or persistent oil-induced impacts on organisms that complete their life cycle within the estuary and those that spent portions of their life history in potentially contaminated offshore surface waters prior to their recruitment to nearshore habitats. Our negative findings are consistent with other assessments of nekton in coastal vegetated habitats and bolster the notion that, despite the presence of localized hydrocarbon enrichments in coastal habitats outside of Louisiana the most severe oil impacts were relegated to coastal Louisiana and the deep sea. Analyzing all the information learned from this accident will undoubtedly provide a synthesis of what has or has not been affected in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, which when put in context with oil spill studies elsewhere should improve our ability to avert and manage the negative consequences of such accidents.

Concepts: Water, Petroleum, Marsh, Liquid, Invertebrate, Gulf of Mexico, Oil, Plankton


Coastal and shelf environments support high levels of biodiversity that are vital in mediating ecosystem processes, but they are also subject to noise associated with mounting levels of offshore human activity. This has the potential to alter the way in which species interact with their environment, compromising the mediation of important ecosystem properties. Here, we show that exposure to underwater broadband sound fields that resemble offshore shipping and construction activity can alter sediment-dwelling invertebrate contributions to fluid and particle transport - key processes in mediating benthic nutrient cycling. Despite high levels of intra-specific variability in physiological response, we find that changes in the behaviour of some functionally important species can be dependent on the class of broadband sound (continuous or impulsive). Our study provides evidence that exposing coastal environments to anthropogenic sound fields is likely to have much wider ecosystem consequences than are presently acknowledged.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Ecology, Natural environment, Sustainability, Invertebrate, Environmental science, Mediation


Climate change and decadal variability are impacting marine fish and invertebrate species worldwide and these impacts will continue for the foreseeable future. Quantitative approaches have been developed to examine climate impacts on productivity, abundance, and distribution of various marine fish and invertebrate species. However, it is difficult to apply these approaches to large numbers of species owing to the lack of mechanistic understanding sufficient for quantitative analyses, as well as the lack of scientific infrastructure to support these more detailed studies. Vulnerability assessments provide a framework for evaluating climate impacts over a broad range of species with existing information. These methods combine the exposure of a species to a stressor (climate change and decadal variability) and the sensitivity of species to the stressor. These two components are then combined to estimate an overall vulnerability. Quantitative data are used when available, but qualitative information and expert opinion are used when quantitative data is lacking. Here we conduct a climate vulnerability assessment on 82 fish and invertebrate species in the Northeast U.S. Shelf including exploited, forage, and protected species. We define climate vulnerability as the extent to which abundance or productivity of a species in the region could be impacted by climate change and decadal variability. We find that the overall climate vulnerability is high to very high for approximately half the species assessed; diadromous and benthic invertebrate species exhibit the greatest vulnerability. In addition, the majority of species included in the assessment have a high potential for a change in distribution in response to projected changes in climate. Negative effects of climate change are expected for approximately half of the species assessed, but some species are expected to be positively affected (e.g., increase in productivity or move into the region). These results will inform research and management activities related to understanding and adapting marine fisheries management and conservation to climate change and decadal variability.

Concepts: Species, Assessment, Qualitative research, Vertebrate, Quantitative research, Invertebrate, Fisheries, Overfishing


Sleep has been observed in several invertebrate species, but its presence in marine invertebrates is relatively unexplored. Rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep has only been observed in vertebrates. We investigated whether the cuttlefish Sepia officinalis displays sleep-like states. We find that cuttlefish exhibit frequent quiescent periods that are homeostatically regulated, satisfying two criteria for sleep. In addition, cuttlefish transiently display a quiescent state with rapid eye movements, changes in body coloration and twitching of the arms, that is possibly analogous to REM sleep. Our findings thus suggest that at least two different sleep-like states may exist in Sepia officinalis.

Concepts: Species, Sleep, Vertebrate, Invertebrate, Rapid eye movement sleep, Rapid eye movement


Recent studies have shown that neonicotinoid insecticides have adverse effects on non-target invertebrate species. Invertebrates constitute a substantial part of the diet of many bird species during the breeding season and are indispensable for raising offspring. We investigated the hypothesis that the most widely used neonicotinoid insecticide, imidacloprid, has a negative impact on insectivorous bird populations. Here we show that, in the Netherlands, local population trends were significantly more negative in areas with higher surface-water concentrations of imidacloprid. At imidacloprid concentrations of more than 20 nanograms per litre, bird populations tended to decline by 3.5 per cent on average annually. Additional analyses revealed that this spatial pattern of decline appeared only after the introduction of imidacloprid to the Netherlands, in the mid-1990s. We further show that the recent negative relationship remains after correcting for spatial differences in land-use changes that are known to affect bird populations in farmland. Our results suggest that the impact of neonicotinoids on the natural environment is even more substantial than has recently been reported and is reminiscent of the effects of persistent insecticides in the past. Future legislation should take into account the potential cascading effects of neonicotinoids on ecosystems.

Concepts: Biology, Insect, Bird, Invertebrate, Insecticide, Pesticide toxicity to bees, Neonicotinoid, Imidacloprid


Pentastomids (tongue worms) are worm-like arthropods known today from ∼140 species [1]. All but four are parasitic on vertebrates. Their life cycle typically involves larval development in an intermediate host followed by maturation in the respiratory tract of a definitive terrestrial host. Fossil pentastomids are exceedingly rare and are known only from isolated juveniles [2-6]. The identity of the possible hosts of fossil pentastomids and the origin of their lifestyle have generated much debate. A new, exceptionally preserved species, described based on adults from 425-million-year-old marine rocks, is the only known fossil pentastomid associated with a host, in this case a species of ostracod crustacean. The pentastomids are preserved near eggs within the ostracod and also, uniquely for any fossil or living pentastomid, are attached externally to the host. This discovery affirms the origin of pentastomids as ectoparasitic on marine invertebrates. The terrestrialization of pentastomids may have occurred in parallel with the vertebrate invasion of land.

Concepts: Species, Insect, Crustacean, Vertebrate, Annelid, Invertebrate, Maxillopoda, Devonian


Ediacaran (635-542 million years ago) fossils have been regarded as early animal ancestors of the Cambrian evolutionary explosion of marine invertebrate phyla, as giant marine protists and as lichenized fungi. Recent documentation of palaeosols in the Ediacara Member of the Rawnsley Quartzite of South Australia confirms past interpretations of lagoonal-aeolian deposition based on synsedimentary ferruginization and loessic texture. Further evidence for palaeosols comes from non-marine facies, dilation cracks, soil nodules, sand crystals, stable isotopic data and mass balance geochemistry. Here I show that the uppermost surfaces of the palaeosols have a variety of fossils in growth position, including Charniodiscus, Dickinsonia, Hallidaya, Parvancorina, Phyllozoon, Praecambridium, Rugoconites, Tribrachidium and ‘old-elephant skin’ (ichnogenus Rivularites). These fossils were preserved as ferruginous impressions, like plant fossils, and biological soil crusts of Phanerozoic eon sandy palaeosols. Sand crystals after gypsum and nodules of carbonate are shallow within the palaeosols, even after correcting for burial compaction. Periglacial involutions and modest geochemical differentiation of the palaeosols are evidence of a dry, cold temperate Ediacaran palaeoclimate in South Australia. This new interpretation of some Ediacaran fossils as large sessile organisms of cool, dry soils, is compatible with observations that Ediacaran fossils were similar in appearance and preservation to lichens and other microbial colonies of biological soil crusts, rather than marine animals, or protists.

Concepts: Animal, Geology, Invertebrate, Paleontology, Cambrian explosion, Proterozoic, Ediacaran, Dickinsonia