It has been found that the predator-prey relationshop is crucial to their evolution in the context of climate change.
It might sound strange and sort of weird but the evolution of prey is dependent upon predators during periods of climate change. A recent UBC study proves that species interaction in the ecological context is very important for how the prey will react in the end.
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Ecosystems around the world are very delicately built. Several predators such as sharks and polar bears are disappearing fast. This is due to the man-made climate change that is destroying their habitats.
As the number of human beings continues to burgeon day by day, the species face a precarious future. Predators keep the prey in check. But they also change the evolutionary responses of the prey in synch with the climate change. This is of key importance.
The animals thus do not go extinct so easily. For the experiment, a small crustacean known as a Daphnia was studied. It is also called the water flea in normal language.
These little creatures are members of freshwater milieus. Their predator is a unique fly larva. Daphnia evolved to fit a rise in water temperatures while co-existing with the fly larva.
"Not only can predators keep prey populations in check but in some cases they can help speed up the evolutionary response to climate change," said Michelle Tseng, a research associate in UBC's Department of Zoology and lead author of the study.
"We now understand that species interactions and evolution can play a significant role in preventing animals from going extinct in a rapidly changing climate."
Scientists didn’t know that various species could respond to the changing environment and survive what would be inhospitable conditions. But the itsy bitsy crustacean known as a Daphnia shows this behavior in plentiful amounts.
The lab conditions were just not suitable. In the wild things happened differently. Among the spectrum of behaviors that organisms engaged in were foraging for food, mating rituals and escaping their predators.
The zoologists were flabbergasted by the results of their experiments. What they thought would happen, didn’t occur at all.
They had thought that the predators would eat up all the Daphnia. And thus the Daphnia population would not survive the climate changes that ensued.
But such was not the case. In a natural condition, no population of creatures exists in loneliness. Everything is connected to everything else. The overall biological community of flora and fauna determines the health and status of the organism. And this includes its response to climate change.
That is why the entire ecosystem must be seen in the sense of the big picture. Not to conserve a single species but all the species in harmony and balance is the goal that mankind must set for itself.
The predators ate those Daphnia that were unfit to face the climate change more easily. Thus more efficient, fitter and faster Daphnia were left behind. They constituted the next generation and thus slowly evolution favored these quicker and cleverer Daphnia.
"In nature, no population lives in isolation," said Tseng. "The community plays a big role in whether and how an organism responds to climate change. These results highlight the importance of conserving the entire ecosystem instead of protecting just one species."
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The findings of this study were published in Biology Letters.