Nav: Home

Nooks, crannies and critters

August 24, 2020

Places with lots of nooks and crannies contain lots of living things--that old brick-pile in the backyard has far more critters than the concrete driveway. This general rule is the same in natural habitats, from the abyssal trenches to the tops of mountains, from coral reefs to the tundra. These habitats range from relatively simple, flat surfaces to highly complex three-dimensional structures.

Damaris Torres-Pulliza, a doctoral candidate at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa's Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) and a team of ecologists and engineers from the University of St. Andrews, the University of Sydney and Macquarie University have developed a relatively simple way to standardize how habitat complexity is measured. This new approach allows for insights into how structural changes to land and seascapes will alter ecosystems.

The complex habitats tend to contain more biodiversity, both in terms of more individuals and more species. The relationship between the complexity of habitats and biodiversity they contain is important, because it highlights a relatively simple mechanism by which to manipulate biodiversity. If habitat complexity decreases, one would expect biodiversity to decrease. Indeed, human and natural processes--like marine heat waves, storms and development--are changing the complexity of habitats faster than at any time in history and biodiversity is also changing at an accelerating pace.

"Scientists have come up with a range of ways to measure habitat complexity," said Torres-Pulliza. "But they vary tremendously, especially across different ecosystems. They tend to only capture part of the complexity picture, which makes these studies difficult to compare."

"We found that you need to know exactly three things about a habitat: rugosity, fractal dimension and height range," explained Dr. Joshua Madin, an associate researcher at HIMB in the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. "If you think of your backyard brick-pile, rugosity tells you the amount surface area there is for critters to live on, fractal dimension tells how many critters of different sizes can fit in among the bricks, and height range sets an upper limit to critter size. You won't find an elephant in your bricks, right?"

The extraordinary part of the researcher's work, published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution, is that you only need to know two of the three measurements to be able to characterize the structure of a habitat. This means ecologists can pick the two aspects of complexity that are easiest to measure and will automatically know the third. This theoretical breakthrough also means that scientists can back-calculate a richer picture of habitat complexity from past studies and compare habitat complexity among different ecosystems, but also that focusing on a single metric can cause misleading results.

The team used a mix of robots and underwater camera gear to measure the three-dimensional structure of coral reef. They then spent many hours underwater counting every single coral found on the 3D maps and identifying them to species names.

"We counted 10,000 corals of about 130 species," said Dr. Maria Dornelas of the University of St. Andrews. "We found that using the three metrics together dramatically improves our ability to predict the distribution of biodiversity, and this helps us understand how the structure of a place affects who lives there."

Though the work is new and currently only applied to coral reefs, the researchers hope that their new theory might become the backbone of research into the relationships between habitat complexity and biodiversity in all kinds of habitats and ecosystems, underwater and on land. Given the extraordinary changes occurring in the natural world, determining how biodiversity, conservation status and recovery rates relate to habitat complexity is paramount.

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.
PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.