London, Mar 11 (ANI): Rapidly growing human populations near the ocean are massively altering coastal water ecosystems, according to a new study.
One of the most extensive human stressors is the discharge of chemicals and pollutants into the ocean.
Most marine organisms such as sea stars (starfish) do not move among locations as adults; instead juveniles swim in the plankton before settling onto the sea floor and growing into a sedentary adult.
Despite the known toxicity of terrestrial discharge, no one had investigated if it is limiting dispersal of marine larvae between populations along urban coastal areas.
Researchers at UH Manoa's Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) have examined the genetic structure of a common, non-harvested sea star using a spatially explicit model to test whether the largest sewage discharge and urban runoff sources were affecting the genetic structure of this species.
They found that these large pollution sources are not only increasing genetic differentiation between populations (presumably by limiting the dispersal of larvae between them) but also decreasing the genetic diversity of populations closest to them.
In short, human beings are directly affecting the ecological and evolutionary trajectory of a species that is relatively free of any direct human impacts.
"This study changes the scale at which we thought human beings can affect non-harvested marine species. These results have the potential to change the way anthropogenic factors are incorporated into marine reserve design and ecosystem-based management," said PhD student Jon Puritz led the investigation.
The research is published in the online journal Nature Communications. (ANI)
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