• How Does Wildlife React to Pollution?

How Does Wildlife React to Pollution?

Aug 22 2018 Read 1336 Times

Manmade pollution not only poses a threat to the human race, but also to the flora and fauna with which we share this planet of ours. Contaminating waterways, degrading soil quality and emitting damaging chemicals and compounds into the air can severely impact the longevity of all manner of plants and animals.

There are a variety of ways in which pollution can negatively affect wildlife, but quantifying the exact consequences of our behaviour on theirs has proven to be difficult for the scientific community. According to a new study from the University of Portsmouth, that’s because test conditions are not being standardised to ensure all subjects receive the same treatment.

Catastrophic consequences of pollution

Mankind’s wanton destruction of our natural environment has had repercussions for the animal kingdom in a number of different ways, all of which are negative. For starters, the widespread use of systemic pesticides poses a global threat to biodiversity, as pollinators such as bees are adversely affected by their use. Agriculture also comprises the land in other ways, using up a multitude of the Earth’s resources and emitting a large amount of pollutants into the air in the process.

Elsewhere, wastewater treatment factories are doing their best to filter unwanted pollutants out of their effluent before it reaches rivers, streams and eventually the oceans, but every year more and more pieces of plastic (and other contaminants) are finding their way into our bodies of water. Meanwhile, the longevity of coral reefs is being endangered by rising temperatures in our seas as a direct result of manmade climate change.

The Earth itself hasn’t escaped the harmful effects of pollution, either. While scientists have been pursuing ever more ingenious ways of cleaning up contaminated soil – such as the use of fungi as a bioremediation tool – many plants are finding it difficult to prosper amid such pollution. This, in turn, has a knock-on effect on the food chain, as the animals which feed on them either go hungry or become contaminated themselves.

The behavioural effect

In addition to jeopardising the longevity of wildlife in the ways mentioned above, pollution can also have a more subtle and insidious effect on how plants and animals behave. With feeding, mating and migratory habits key to their existence, even small changes in how they behave can have major consequences on a species’ ability to survive. Quantifying these consequences has been a challenging proposition for scientists, but a recent study demonstrates how they might have more success going forwards.

Professor Alex Ford, PhD student Shanelle Kohler and other members of their team at the University of Portsmouth measured how the size and shape of the tank used to house crustaceans could affect their behaviour, thus distorting the results of studies. Exposure to sunlight or other forms of light was also found to be a contributing factor to aberrant behaviour, leading the team to conclude that normalisation of test conditions is essential to produce meaningful studies of the effect of pollution on any kind of wildlife.

“These results highlight the importance of standardising behavioural assays, as variations in experimental design could alter animal behaviour,” explained Kohler. “It is essential to gather baseline behaviours on your test organism to ensure that they are sensitive to your assay and prevent erroneous interpretations of results. For example, is your animal unaffected by your contaminant or are they simply not sensitive to your assay?”

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