A new study from a team of leading scientists reports on the diverse ways that aquatic predators, such as sharks and alligators, can impact ecosystems and also benefit human society. The study shows how these important ecological processes and ecosystem services to society can break down or recover from population losses and recoveries of aquatic predators.
"Aquatic predators can influence their ecosystems by keeping prey populations in check, controlling the flow of nutrients, preventing the spread of diseases and invasive species, and even creating new habitats for other organisms," said lead study author Neil Hammerschlag, a research associate professor at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School and Abess Center for Ecosystem Science & Policy. "In addition to benefiting humans as food, they are highly sought after for sport fishing, scuba diving and ecotourism, which creates thousands of jobs."
The study also describes how aquatic predators can moderate climate change effects and have become inspiration for new products, such as shark skin-mimicking surfaces, being used to design more aerodynamic drones and planes, as well as the development of new medicines.
"To aid in future investigations, we identified 16 priority research questions." said Steven Cooke, study co-author and professor at Carleton University, Canada. "One of the most critical is understanding how climate change is affecting the ecological roles of aquatic predators and the services they provide to humans in a changing world."
The study concludes with a framework to aid policy makers and wildlife managers in supporting adaptive decision making involving aquatic predators within a context that maximizes their ecosystem function as well as the benefits they provide to humans under current and future environmental change.
The study, titled "Ecosystem Function and Services of Aquatic Predators in the Anthropocene", DOI doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2019.01.005was published online in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution on March 8, 2019.
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Neil Hammerschlag et al, Ecosystem Function and Services of Aquatic Predators in the Anthropocene, Trends in Ecology & Evolution (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2019.01.005