Monday, May 21, 2012

Making the connections Loom-inous

Plankton numbers are limited by a few key nutrients. When these increase in abundance, so do the phytoplankton (the part of the plankton that photosynthesizes) and the zooplankton (the animal part of the plankton). In turn, the increased plankton abundance attracts the animals that feed on them, like manta rays.

It turns out that many of the nutrients that plankton need are in bird poo, which is also known as guano. Offshore of the places that birds nest can be higher in these crucial nutrients as the rain washes them out of the guano and into sea. When land use changes, so that birds no longer nest where used to also causes manta rays to become much less common out to sea.

Carl Zimmer, who is one of the best science journalists in the world today, has written an excellent piece about the connections between life on land and life in the sea. Much of it concerns a new study that documents the changes in manta ray populations with changes in land use. You should go and read it.

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