Metabolic scaling in modular animals

Scott C. Burgess, Will H. Ryan, Neil W. Blackstone, Peter J. Edmunds, Mia O. Hoogenboom, Don R. Levitan, Janie L. Wulff. Metabolic Scaling in Modular Animals. Invertebrate Biology (accepted)

Abstract: Metabolic scaling is the relationship between organismal metabolic rate and body mass. Understanding the patterns and causes of metabolic scaling provides a powerful foundation for predicting biological processes at the level of individuals, populations, communities, and ecosystems. Despite intense interest in, and debate on, the mechanistic basis of metabolic scaling, relatively little attention has been paid to metabolic scaling in clonal animals with modular construction, such as colonial cnidarians, bryozoans, and colonial ascidians. Unlike unitary animals, modular animals are structural individuals subdivided into repeated morphological units, or modules, each able to acquire, process, and share resources. A modular design allows flexibility in organism size and shape with consequences for metabolic scaling. Furthermore, with careful consideration of the biology of modular animals, the size and shape of individual colonies can be experimentally manipulated to test competing theories pertaining to metabolic scaling. Here, we review metabolic scaling in modular animals and find that a wide range of scaling exponents, rather than a single value, has been reported for a variety of modular animals. We identify factors influencing variation in intraspecific scaling in this group that relate to the general observation that not all modules within a colony are identical. We highlight current gaps in our understanding of metabolic scaling in modular animals, and suggest future research directions, such as manipulating metabolic states and comparisons among species that differ in extent of module integration.

Size-dependent physiological responses of the branching coral Pocillopora verrucosa to elevated temperature and pCO2.

Edmunds PJ, Burgess SC (2016) Size-dependent physiological responses of the branching coral Pocillopora verrucosa to elevated temperature and pCO2. Journal of Experimental Biology. [link]

Abstract: Body size has large effects on organism physiology, but these effects remain poorly understood in modular animals with complex morphologies. Using two trials of a∼24 d experiment conducted in 2014 and 2015, we tested the hypothesis that colony size of the coral Pocillopora verrucosa affects the response of calcification, aerobic respiration, and gross photosynthesis to temperature (∼ 26.5°C and∼29.7°C) and PCO2 (∼ 400 µatm and∼1000 µatm). Large corals calcified more than small corals, but at a slower size-specific rate; area-normalized calcification declined with size. Whole-colony and area-normalized calcification were unaffected by temperature, PCO2, or the interaction between the two. Whole-colony respiration increased with colony size, but the slopes of these relationships differed between treatments. Area-normalized gross photosynthesis declined with colony size, but whole-colony photosynthesis was unaffected by PCO2, and showed a weak response to temperature. When scaled up to predict the response of large corals, area-normalized metrics of physiological performance measured using small corals provide inaccurate estimates of physiological performance of large colonies. Together, these results demonstrate the importance of colony size in modulating the response of branching corals to elevated temperature and high PCO2.

Global change, life-history complexity and the potential for evolutionary rescue

Dustin J. Marshall, Scott C. Burgess, Tim Connallon (2016) Global change, life-history complexity and the potential for evolutionary rescue. Evolutionary Applications 9: 1189-1201 [pdf]

Abstract: Most organisms have complex life cycles, and in marine taxa, larval life-history stages tend to be more sensitive to environmental stress than adult (reproductive) life-history stages. While there are several models of stage-specific adaptation across the life history, the extent to which differential sensitivity to environmental stress (defined here as reductions in absolute fitness across the life history) affects the tempo of adaptive evolution to change remains unclear. We used a heuristic model to explore how commonly observed features associated with marine complex life histories alter a population’s capacity to cope with environmental change. We found that increasing the complexity of the life history generally reduces the evolutionary potential of taxa to cope with environmental change. Our model also predicted that genetic correlations in stress tolerance between stages, levels of genetic variance in each stage, and the relative plasticity of different stages, all interact to affect the maximum rate of environmental change that will permit species persistence. Our results suggest that marine organisms with complex life cycles are particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic global change, but we lack empirical estimates of key parameters for most species.

When is dispersal for dispersal?

Burgess SC, Baskett ML, Grosberg RK, Morgan SG, Strathmann RR. (in press) When is dispersal for dispersal? Unifying marine and terrestrial perspectives. Biological Reviews. [link]

Abstract: Recent syntheses on the evolutionary causes of dispersal have focused on dispersal as a direct adaptation, but many traits that influence dispersal have other functions, raising the question: when is dispersal ‘for’ dispersal? We review and critically evaluate the ecological causes of selection on traits that give rise to dispersal in marine and terrestrial organisms. In the sea, passive dispersal is relatively easy and specific morphological, behavioural, and physiological adaptations for dispersal are rare. Instead, there may often be selection to limit dispersal. On land, dispersal is relatively difficult without specific adaptations, which are relatively common. Although selection for dispersal is expected in both systems and traits leading to dispersal are often linked to fitness, systems may differ in the extent to which dispersal in nature arises from direct selection for dispersal or as a by-product of selection on traits with other functions. Our analysis highlights incompleteness of theories that assume a simple and direct relationship between dispersal and fitness, not just insofar as they ignore a vast array of taxa in the marine realm, but also because they may be missing critically important effects of traits influencing dispersal in all realms.