Digging sea otters promotes genetic diversity in eelgrass • Earth.com

Physical disturbance caused by sea otter populations when they forage on the seabed for food, according to a new study from the University of Victoria, plays an important role in increasing the genetic diversity of the surrounding eelgrass .

Although it is well known that predators have important effects on a variety of ecosystems, previous research has largely focused on the observed changes in community structures caused by trophic interactions between predators and the organisms from which they reside. feed. The non-trophic consequences of predation, such as how indirect disturbances caused by predators can affect the evolution and genetic diversity of plant communities, have not yet been fully investigated.

Foraging sea otters routinely dig for small crabs and clams in eelgrass grasslands, according to a research team led by University of Victoria PhD student in conservation science Erin Foster. , a behavior whereby they indirectly promote the conditions that facilitate the reproduction of these plants, thus increasing the genetic diversity of the eelgrass community.

By comparing genetic analyzes of grasslands where sea otters have been absent for over a century to grasslands where otters have been reintroduced in the past decade and grasslands where they have been present for decades, the researchers have found that the genetic diversity of eelgrass was 30 percent higher in places where otters have been present for two or three decades. According to Foster and his colleagues, the longer sea otters were present in an area, the more genetically diverse the eelgrass communities there were.

“Foster’s discoveries et al. come at a premonitory moment, ”said Joe Roman, conservation biologist at the University of Vermont. “The need to protect and monitor genetic diversity has often been overlooked in global communities such as the Convention on Biological Diversity. Research on the effects of disturbances and interactions between species on genetic diversity could help inform efforts to restore trophic rewilding. “

By revealing less understood evolutionary processes by which predators promote genetic diversity and ecological resilience, this study sheds light on the complex and diverse relationships established between very different members of specific ecosystems.

This study is published in the journal Science.

Through Andrei Ionescu, Terre.com Editor-in-chief

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