Investigating climate change and conservation in sea anemones
In a collaborative venture, Blue Planet Aquarium and the University of Liverpool have joined forces to understand the impact of rising temperatures on a marine animal, the beadlet sea anemone. Environments around the world are under threat from climate change, which is exposing animals to increasing and rapidly fluctuating temperatures. We need to fully understand its effects so we can conserve as many plants and animals as possible. One of the first things that an animal can do to protect against the harmful effects of climate change is to change its behaviour. Many animals have a “personality”, which means that if you test a single animal, it will behave the same way over and over again. This allows us to identify individuals by their behavioural quirks. Personality differences mean that some animals in a species might be better at changing their behaviour to deal with climate change than others. Blue Planet Aquarium are sponsoring a PhD student, Daniel Maskrey, to investigate this issue at the University of Liverpool. Daniel says, “We’re using sea anemones to study this because the environment they live in on the sea shore is at greater risk than most. The shore is constantly changing as the tides go in and out, which means that animals living there are already dealing with constant challenges. Add climate change to this, and many animals living on the sea shore might no longer be able to survive. We’re using an approach that explores behavioural responses and other factors to work out how anemones with different personalities are likely to respond to climate change, and whether some might react better than others. In the end, we hope that our results will have major impacts on how we try to conserve species inhabiting sea shores and maintain biodiversity.” Sea anemones are a very attractive species and feature in the exhibits at Blue Planet Aquarium. Curator Dave Wolfenden says, “Understanding how temperature affects sea anemones not only helps us keep and breed these animals in better conditions but we can also contribute to efforts to conserve this species in the face of climate change”. The research is partially funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council under the Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment (ACCE) priority area, in collaboration with marine biologist Dr Jack Thomson and behavioural physiologist Dr Lynne Sneddon.