Invasive mosquito fish are sometimes fearless.
Free from the predators of their native vary, these mosquito fish run rampant, throwing naive ecosystems from Europe to Australia out of whack. To hold the problematic fish in verify, scientists are attempting to strike concern again into the hearts of those swimmers with a high-tech device: robots.
In a laboratory experiment, a robotic fish designed to imitate one in every of mosquito fish’s pure predators elevated concern and stress responses in mosquito fish, impairing their survival and replica, researchers report December 16 in iScience.
While robofish gained’t be deployed within the wild anytime quickly, the analysis highlights that there are “more creative ways of preventing unwanted behavior from a species” than merely killing them, says Michael Culshaw-Maurer, an ecologist on the University of Arizona in Tucson who wasn’t concerned within the examine. “It’s just wonderful seeing work in this area.”
Sign Up For the Latest from Science News
Headlines and summaries of the most recent Science News articles, delivered to your inbox
Thank you for signing up!
There was an issue signing you up.
Native to elements of the western and southeastern United States, mosquito fish (Gambusia spp.) had been let unfastened in freshwater ecosystems across the globe final century in a foolhardy effort to manage malaria. But as a substitute of consuming malaria-transmitting mosquito larvae, the mosquito fish principally gobble up the eggs and gnaw on the tails of native fish and amphibians, making them one of many world’s most harmful invasive species, in keeping with the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Efforts to fight mosquito fish, and lots of different launched, invasive species, often depend on mass killing with traps, poison or different blunt strategies, says Giovanni Polverino, a behavioral ecologist on the University of Western Australia in Perth. “For most of the invasive species considered problematic, this doesn’t work,” he says, and may typically hurt native species too.
The drawback isn’t essentially the presence of mosquito fish in these ecosystems, Polverino says, however their wanton habits enabled by an absence of predators. While predation prevents prey numbers from ballooning, merely the concern of predators can affect prey habits in ways in which ripple all through an ecosystem (SN: 5/5/19). Polverino and his colleagues needed to see if a robotic fish crafted to imitate one in every of mosquito fish’s pure nemeses, the largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), might be simply as scary and take among the chunk out of mosquito fish’s unfavourable affect.
In the lab, researchers arrange 12 tanks that every housed six mosquito fish (G. holbrooki) with six native Australian tadpoles (Litoria moorei) which might be generally harassed by mosquito fish. After every week of acclimatization, the staff transferred every group to an experimental tank for one hour twice every week for 5 weeks. There, half of the teams confronted a robotic predator designed to acknowledge and lunge at mosquito fish once they received too near the tadpoles.
Fear of the robotic altered the habits, form and fertility of the mosquito fish, each throughout publicity and weeks later. Mosquito fish going through the robotic tended to cluster collectively and never discover the tank, whereas the tadpoles, freed from harassment, ventured farther out. Even within the security of their residence aquariums, fish uncovered to the robots had been much less lively and extra anxious — exhibited by seconds-longer freeze responses — than mosquito fish that weren’t uncovered.
The cumulative stress taxed the fishes’ our bodies too. Exposed fish misplaced vitality reserves, changing into barely smaller than nonexposed fish. Exposed males grew to become extra streamlined, doubtlessly to quicken escape behaviors, the researchers say. And the sperm rely of scared fish decreased by about half, on common.
“Instead of investing in reproduction, they’re investing in reshaping their body to escape better after only six weeks,” Polverino says. “Overall, they became less healthy and less fertile.”
The long-term affect that such robotic predators would have on wild mosquito fish and their neighbors stays unclear. That’s irrelevant for Polverino, who says the primary contribution of this examine is displaying that concern has important penalties which will scale back the survival and replica of invasive species.
“Our plan is not to release hundreds of thousands of these robots in the wild and pretend they will solve the problem,” Polverino says. But there could also be multiple option to scare a mosquito fish. Giving the fish a whiff of their predator, for instance, would possibly induce comparable adjustments.
“These are not invincible animals,” he says. “They have weaknesses that we can take advantage of that don’t involve killing animals one by one.”