Fresh water flea panic – so it must be happening in the oceans too

Daphnia pulex, a Species Waiting in the Wings ...
Daphnia pulex, a Species Waiting in the Wings to Achieve “Model” Status. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From York University   – quite possibly the most poorly written science by press release I’ve seen this year. The leaps of “may” are profound, and the footbal team analogy is designed to elicit sympathy. I suppose if Daphnia populations were collapsing in lakes due to lack of helmets and shoulder pads, we’d see a collapse in the lake food chain too, but that doesn’t seem to be happening that I can find. And, as is typical with such alarmist press releases, they don’t name the paper, making anyone reading the press release have to go hunting for it.

Changes in water chemistry leave lake critters defenseless

TORONTO, Sept. 6, 2012 – Imagine that the players on your favourite football team were smaller than their opponents, and had to play without helmets or pads. Left defenseless, they would become easy prey for other teams. Similarly, changes in Canadian lake water chemistry have left small water organisms vulnerable to their predators, which may pose a serious environmental threat, according to a new study.

“At low calcium levels the organisms grow slower and cannot build their armour,” says study lead author Howard Riessen, professor of biology, SUNY College at Buffalo. “Without suitable armour, they are vulnerable to ambush by predators,” he says.

Riessen and colleagues, including York University biology Professor Norman Yan, studied the effect of changes in water chemistry on plankton prey defenses. Specifically, they examined how lower calcium concentrations affect

(water flea) exoskeleton development. These low calcium levels are caused by loss of calcium from forest soils, a consequence of decades of acid rain and multiple cycles of logging and forest growth. The results are published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Calcium is a critical element for Daphnia and many other crustaceans,” Riessen says. “Daphnia build their exoskeletons, which include some defensive spines, with calcium to protect themselves from predators. Where calcium levels are low, the Daphnia have softer, smaller, exoskeletons with fewer defensive spines, making them an easy snack.”

Why do plankton matter? Yan, the study’s senior author and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, emphasizes that the tiny creatures are critical to our survival. “Without plankton, humans would be quite hungry, and perhaps even dead. Much of the world’s photosynthesis, the basis of all of our food, comes from the ocean’s plankton. The oxygen in every other breath we take is a product of phytoplankton photosynthesis,” says Yan.

This phenomenon of reduced calcium is also playing out on a much larger scale in the world’s oceans, he notes. “Increases in ocean acidity are complicating calcium acquisition by marine life, which is an under-reported effect of global carbon dioxide emissions. Thus marine plankton may also find themselves more vulnerable to predators,” he says.

The public is used to stories about changes in water chemistry that lead to large-scale fish kills, says Riessen. “These changes are more insidious. Daphnia might not be a household name, but they are food for fish, and they help keep our lakes clean. Changing the balance between Daphnia and their predators marks a major change in lake systems.”


So I found the paper, and sure enough, they don’t mention the oceans (in the abstract). Seems like they went a bit overboard with that press release.

Changes in water chemistry can disable plankton prey defenses

  1. Howard P. Riessena,1,
  2. Robert Dallas Linleyb,c,
  3. Ianina Altshulerd,
  4. Max Rabuse,
  5. Thomas Söllradlf,
  6. Hauke Clausen-Schaumannf,g,
  7. Christian Laforsche,h,2, and
  8. Norman D. Yanb,c

+ Author Affiliations

  1. aDepartment of Biology, State University of New York (SUNY) College at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14222;

  2. bDepartment of Biology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada M3J 1P3;

  3. cDorset Environmental Science Centre, Dorset, ON, Canada P0A 1E0;

  4. dDepartment of Biological Sciences, University of Windsor, Windsor, ON, Canada N9B 3P4;

  5. eDepartment Biologie II, Ludwig Maximilians Universität München, 82152 Planegg-Martinsried, Germany;

  6. fDepartment of Precision- and Micro-Engineering, Engineering Physics, Munich University of Applied Sciences, 80335 Munich, Germany;

  7. gCenter for NanoScience, Ludwig Maximilians Universität München, 80539 Munich, Germany; and

  8. hGeoBio Center, Ludwig Maximilians Universität München, 80333 Munich, Germany
  1. Edited by Michael Lynch, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, and approved August 9, 2012 (received for review June 11, 2012)


The effectiveness of antipredator defenses is greatly influenced by the environment in which an organism lives. In aquatic ecosystems, the chemical composition of the water itself may play an important role in the outcome of predator–prey interactions by altering the ability of prey to detect predators or to implement defensive responses once the predator’s presence is perceived. Here, we demonstrate that low calcium concentrations (<1.5 mg/L) that are found in many softwater lakes and ponds disable the ability of the water flea, Daphnia pulex to respond effectively to its predator, larvae of the phantom midge, Chaoborus americanus. This low-calcium environment prevents development of the prey’s normal array of induced defenses, which include an increase in body size, formation of neck spines, and strengthening of the carapace. We estimate that this inability to access these otherwise effective defenses results in a 50–186% increase in the vulnerability of the smaller juvenile instars of Daphnia, the stages most susceptible to Chaoborus predation. Such a change likely contributes to the observed lack of success of daphniids in most low-calcium freshwater environments, and will speed the loss of these important zooplankton in lakes where calcium levels are in decline.


In comments, Rat boy (who apparently has paid access) points out this last paragraph of the paper where they DO mention the oceans in passing, with more “may” caveats:

Marine plankton also face the prospect of reduced calcification,

in this case as an indirect consequence of ever increasing

concentrations of CO2 in the oceans (37, 38). Much like their

freshwater counterparts, many marine plankton also may find

themselves increasingly vulnerable to a variety of predators.

Thus, the indirect effect of changes in water chemistry on

predator–prey interactions in both freshwater and marine communities may play an important role in determining the ultimate success of species in these environments.

The point stands, they use “may” in the broadest sense in that paragraph to make that leap of logic, without any supporting science to back it up. If they had any supporting science, they wouldn’t use the word “may”.

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September 7, 2012 7:43 am

Where I grew up we had very large puddles after the standard rainfall in summer. Of course we tons of those water fleas, and also mosquito larva. However, we also had some toads living in the bushes and they always laid their eggs in the same massive puddles. So the tadpoles ate all the water fleas and larva.
Using the logic from this paper I must say that the tadpoles eating all the water fleas back then was certainly a result of global warming.

September 7, 2012 7:45 am

Something tells me we have more of a louse problem.

September 7, 2012 7:52 am

just as ridiculous, given the fantastic snow season Australians are enjoying this year:
8 Sept: Sydney Morning Herald: Jacqueline Maley: Great season but climate change brings snow blindness
THE ski bunnies, the electro-engineers and the resort operators all agree on one thing: 2012 is the best season in the Snowy Mountains for a long time.
According to the levels measured by Snowy Hydro, the snow was 204 centimetres deep on August 30, which is as deep as it has been since 2004.
Some say the quality and consistency of the snow is as good as it was in the famous 2000 season. Others mutter about 1990. Thredbo resort is so excited it has extended its season until next month.
What they can’t agree on is how long it will last.
Advertisement While climate scientists predict Australian ski seasons in future will have scantily clad slopes, the ski resorts prefer to focus on the here and now, while hedging their bets with technology that maximises the snow they have, for however long they have it….
But nature will have its way, at least according to climate scientists.
The CSIRO predicts that compared with 1990 levels, there will be 60 per cent less snow on the slopes by 2020, under a high emissions scenario, which is what we’re tracking towards.
”Resorts, national parks and local government researchers have all moved on from ‘Is it happening?’ to ‘How do we deal with it?’,” says Catherine Pickering, a climate scientist and associate professor at Griffith University.
When asked about Thredbo resort’s contingency plans for climate change, the communications manager, Susie Diver, says that snow, just like rainfall, ”goes up and down”…
Elliss says the business operators and resort personnel in the area err on the conservative side when it comes to climate change thinking.
”I think they would like to believe the sceptics, but it’s pretty bloody obvious to me,” he says. ”It’s real. You can be in denial about it all you want.”

September 7, 2012 8:10 am

So they are worried about oceanic phytoplankton, but Daphnia are freshwater zooplankton. The predator mentioned in the abstract (phantom midge) lives almost exclusivley in fishless lakes, but they point out that Daphnia are important because they are fish food. So, basically they are worried because they forgot what their study actually covered.

September 7, 2012 8:20 am

I think the casual reader might wonder, “If these organisms are supposed to be food for predators, then why is it bad that they’re more vulnerable to predators?”

September 7, 2012 8:21 am

Umm, last paragraph of the paper:

Marine plankton also face the prospect of reduced calcification,
in this case as an indirect consequence of ever increasing
concentrations of CO2 in the oceans (37, 38). Much like their
freshwater counterparts, many marine plankton also may find
themselves increasingly vulnerable to a variety of predators.
Thus, the indirect effect of changes in water chemistry on
predator–prey interactions in both freshwater and marine communities
may play an important role in determining the ultimate
success of species in these environments.

REPLY: Umm, the public can’t read the paper without paying for it. That’s part of the issue. I tried to read the full paper and was faced with paying for it:
I take it you, as one of the anointed academics, didn’t have to pay to read the paper due to your university affiliation?
The point stands, they use “may” in the broadest sense in that paragraph to make that leap of logic, without any supporting science to back it up. If they had any supporting science, they wouldn’t use the word “may”. If the situation were reversed, you’d be all over it. – Anthony

Wayne Delbeke
September 7, 2012 8:21 am

“York University” in downtown Toronto – the centre of the Universe. Click on the link Anthony gave you in the first line and see if you think you want to take what they say seriously. If it came from McGill, or Waterloo, or Dartmouth or U of S or U of C or U of A…. But York? Nothing new. Move along. Check out the University News:

September 7, 2012 8:27 am

Daphnia are a rather interesting creature in that they clone themselves. The egg sacks, which are located on the right of the picture are exact genetic duplicates of the mother. After the first instar the new Daphnia can squirt out more clones. This allows rapid response to incoming nutrient load. Sex takes too much time and energy.
One of the main predators of Daphnia is fish. Fish don’t care about the size of the hood or any other body part. They process Dphnia by filter feeding. Sockeye are especially efficient at filter feeding because of the close proximity of their gill rackers.

Richard Day
September 7, 2012 8:33 am

York U is not downtown but out in the NW part of the city. But their leftist thinking infests most of the politics in this province. Feel free to substitute a “D” for “Y” and you’ll get what many people call the U.

September 7, 2012 8:36 am

The Daphnia are the extreme “canary in a coal mine” and will die if you blink at them. The Antismokers have been using them for years with a cute little experiment involving a cigarette butt in a liter of water. OMG! It kills HALF the Daphnia! Smokers are POISONING THE WORLD’S WATER ‘n WE”RE ALL GONNA DIIIIEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!
Eventually I got tired of the nonsense so I divided the 5 trillion possible butts a year ALL being thrown into the world’s water into the 1.3 SEXTILLION liters of water and determined that the smokers could smoke their hearts out and litter at will for the next 80 million years… even assuming zero biodegradability.
Take their figures and claims and compare it to the world’s water supply and for this stuff and you might be able to give them a black eye or two.

September 7, 2012 8:47 am

Daphnia are a very important food source for freshly hatched fish and are the main source of food throughout the winter for many fish species. Examination of stomach content of rainbow trout during the winter shows 100% of the food is Dahnia. This has been observed in some of our Western lakes that have very large population of Daphnia pulex.

September 7, 2012 8:55 am

It seems we need to put Daphnia on the threatened species list, just like their brother polar bears. (sarc)
One technical point. Wouldn’t acid rain actually increase the calcium in the lakes due to runoff as the rain weathers surrounding limestone and other calcium bearing formations? Just asking.

September 7, 2012 9:30 am

When you use “may” at the end of a scientific paper it’s because you are suggesting possibilities that ought to be followed up. Do you think scientists should never be allowed to conjecture?
You know, the scientists don’t like that you can’t read the article either. PNAS charges authors $1350 to make the article open access. That’s cheap compared to Nature ($5000). If you email a study author they will be happy to send you a free copy.
I also think it makes sense to think about the “may” scenarios BEFORE there is a collapse in lake food chains… “We’re not all dead yet, so this is uninteresting” is a fairly extreme definition of what’s worth studying/reading about.

Rob Crawford
September 7, 2012 9:35 am

I’ve read about daphnia being “farmed” in tanks paired with heavily planted aquariums. The water is shared, so the daphnia farm gets the algae from the other tank. Heavily planted tanks are often supplemented with CO2 — sometimes to the level that the CO2 injection has to be shut off overnight or it would kill the fish — yet daphnia thrive in this environment.
At least until they’re scooped out of their isolated tank and put in the main tank with the fish. Then they become fish food.

September 7, 2012 9:39 am

“…low calcium levels are caused by loss of calcium from forest soils…” & it should be noted that leaves on the ground are what adds calcium back into the equation. Temperate tree varieties deposit different levels of leaf calcium; some examples are of 22.4 mg Ca/gr leaf litter from hardwood Tilia cordata to just 3.7mg Ca/g from evergreen Pinus nigra. (for data comparing 14 tree leaf litter see

September 7, 2012 9:45 am

May is used correctly in the paper – as a potential extension of the paper’s freshwater findings that require validation. Since you aren’t attacking the freshwater conclusions do you believe that low calcium levels is salt water do not affect animals that build their shells from calcium?
The assumption that low calcium levels make it harder for animals to build shells out of calcium and that weaker shells leave the animals more vulnerable seems pretty reasonable to me whether or not NaCl is present.

September 7, 2012 9:58 am

oeman50 says:
September 7, 2012 at 8:55 am

Of course calcium increases as pH decreases. Freshman high school chemistry.
Another chuckle in this academic “puff-piece” (I would not elevate this to a “paper”), is the weakening of the “armor” of the Daphnia. Armor does not do that well when one is swallowed whole, as the overwhelming majority are. For evasion, then, evolution “science” predicts that, for survival, they should have lighter “armor” for faster speeds. This “paper” is a mish-mash of competing and contradictory ideas.
Oh, another thing: notice how these guys always pick an anthropomorphically “cute” organism? It sort of looks like a chicken peep with little tickley wings? Why not pick a Volvox which is just a big prickly ball, or one of the planckton species that look like silverfish or a cockroaches?
Rhetorical question—you know why…

September 7, 2012 10:13 am

I do research on freshwater food chains and know Harry Reissen and Norm Yan personally. I didn’t see the press release on the York U web site. Seems like a good piece of science and congrats to the authors for getting published in PNAS.. We know that Daphnia doesn’t do well in soft, low Ca++ water and that seems to be a direct results of water chemistry (low Ca++) and an indirect result of less ability to invest in physical defenses. These are interesting science results. If there is a problem, it’s the journalists at universities who interview the scientists and write the “press releases.” Phantom midge larvae (Chaoborus) are major plankton predators, especially in lakes with few fish, which is often the case in low pH or acid lakes. Reissen has spent much of his career studying the predator prey interactions between Daphnia and Chaoborus. It’s a great system for basic research on these interactions. Since one can do lab and field experiments with Daphnia and Chaoborus, scientists can develop mathematic models and test the predictions of the models with experiments.

September 7, 2012 10:15 am

@socialblunder – if they had observed it in the North Atlantic and said that it “may” be taking place worldwide the same objection, a “leap of logic” with “no scientific evidence to back it up” would probably be leveled…

Mike McMillan
September 7, 2012 10:20 am

Edohiguma says: September 7, 2012 at 7:43 am
… So the tadpoles ate all the water fleas and larva.
Using the logic from this paper I must say that the tadpoles eating all the water fleas back then was certainly a result of global warming.

I thought tadpoles were vegetarians?

September 7, 2012 10:21 am

Mmmmm, how can we include “CO2” in our paper to secure those grants…

September 7, 2012 10:25 am

More garbage science equals more garbage. Tiny amounts of CO2 only change the bicarbonate ion equation in a miniscule degree. Ocean life merely changes the equation back in the other direction in a much larger and faster degree. Life EATS C02 and eventually deposits excess CO2 on the ocean floor.
Problem solved as it always has been since ocean life evolved. More straining at gnats by those with an agenda.

Gene Selkov
September 7, 2012 10:41 am

There is virtually no calcium in the fresh water bodies of the entire country of Scotland (which makes it such a great place to live — you don’t need to buy bottled water there). Daphnia are doing just fine. Ten milligrams per litre seems to be more than enough.

September 7, 2012 11:21 am

PNAS is one of the hardest journals there is to get published in. But (presumably, I doubt there has been enough time since the post went up) without reading the article bubbagyro can tell it’s a “puff piece”.
I personally would generally assume that PNAS can probably find reviewers that could tell if the whole premise of the paper is wrong.

September 7, 2012 11:41 am

@gene selkov – that’s great, but what about at the concentrations listed in the abstract?
Here, we demonstrate that low calcium concentrations (<1.5 mg/L) that are found in many softwater lakes and ponds disable the ability of the water flea, Daphnia pulex to respond effectively to its predator, larvae of the phantom midge, Chaoborus americanus.
And for everyone that mentioned fish eating them whole, note what it says the main predator is…

September 7, 2012 11:45 am

The paper is interesting for what it studied. I haven’t read the entire paper, but I don’t have a problem with understanding this predator/prey relationship.
The speculation in the conclusion and the press release is a wild leap, and I can only hope that the paper was accepted in spite of those statements because the rest of the research is sound. There is no support for comparing an oligotrophic freshwater lake experiencing changes in nutrient run-off with un-measured, un-observed acidification of the ocean by CO2. Daphnia being more susceptible to this one predator doesn’t make them endangered (as I am sure you well know), nor does it put fisheries at risk. The Calcium shells don’t protect the Daphnia from fish predation. The midge larvae don’t live in lakes with lots of fish. Why? Probably because the fish have no problem eating them as well, and are capable of out-competing them for the Daphnia food source.
Just because this type of speculation has become the norm, doesn’t make it good science and good scientists should be disciplined enough to avoid it. It used to be that science students were taught to strictly avoid speculation in scientific writing. Welcome to the post-norm.

September 7, 2012 12:00 pm

It seems somewhat strange that we would have a calcium shortage in the Great Lakes when great expanses of the shorelines and bottoms are limestone. The Niagara escarpment must surely be part of the watershed that would feed surface and sub-surface water to abutting lakes.
Oh well, science never ceases to amaze…

Steve C
September 7, 2012 12:02 pm

“This phenomenon of reduced calcium is also playing out on a much larger scale in the world’s oceans” … What? All those millions of tons of chalk, limestone etc. are running out? It really is worse than we think!
As for those “increases in ocean acidity”, I think it’s been noted here frequently that this is a very misleading description of a trifling non-problem. For a start, if the oceans ever got anything like “acidic”, the White Cliffs of Dover and all chalky rocks would be increasing the calcium content of the oceans very rapidly, as any fule no.
“Seems like they went a bit overboard with that press release.” Not half. Still, perhaps the “acidic” water will dissolve ’em before they get back on board. (With apologies to Bill D – I don’t really intend your pals to dissolve, of course … but then, it won’t happen 🙂

Ally E.
September 7, 2012 12:52 pm

Sounds to me as though someone is testing the water – if you’ll pardon the pun – to see which direction the alarmism should go to generate new interest. People just aren’t panicking the way they used to. Even governments are beginning to frown at the costs and to pull away. They’ve got to find a new fear, a new worry, a new big stick to hit us all with. They’ve just got to. 97% of all grants may be involved. Oh panic, their source of income must not be allowed to die out. 😛

Alan Bates
September 7, 2012 12:58 pm

“York University”, it says.
My first thought was the University of York (UK) really has gone downhill in a big way*.
Then I saw “Toronto” …
*If anyone is interested see the Wiki article

September 7, 2012 1:06 pm

Usually scientists don’t write the press releases and certainly editors and reviews have nothing to do with them. Yes, we are talking about lakes with very low Ca++, certainly not the North American Great Lakes. Try lakes in the Adarondack Mountains, in the Canadian Shield and in northern Norway. These are all places with lakes with very thin soils and granite bedrock. These are areas where low Ca is a problem for Daphnia and snails and other crustaceans and molluscs.. I really doubt that this paper has anything to say about CO2 and climate change. Lots of good research is hardly related to climate change. On the other hand, there is evidence that reduced pH due to CO2 entering the oceans is killing some marine molluscs, but that’s a different story. Quite a lot of good field and lab experimental work is gearing up among marine biologists on that topic. I’ve seen some good funded proposals. As that work is published, I’m sure that many of you will want to read the articles carefully and to comment.

September 7, 2012 1:17 pm

Most ecological research is based on contributions to basic knowledge about ecology and evolution. I review a lot of grant proposals and only a small percentage mention environmental catastrophes. I want to assure you that scientists don’t like exaggeration. I’ve never even seen a grant proposal that contained any “alarmism.” Exaggeration and alarmism seems like a good way not to be taken seriously and to get a grant proposal rejected out of hand.
. So, Aly E above, I wonder what agency or institution is providing “alarmist” proposals for you to read or review (?). It’s not bad to have a tie in to an enviromental issue in a grant proposal, but grant reviewers are always looking at the quality of the science first. That’s my experience, mostly with the National Science Foundation, similar agencies from other countries and even more applied programs on water resources.

September 7, 2012 1:26 pm

BillD says:
“I want to assure you that scientists don’t like exaggeration. I’ve never even seen a grant proposal that contained any ‘alarmism’.”
Then how did this alarmism and exaggeration attract so many grants??

September 7, 2012 1:47 pm

More CO2 meanss more carbonate in the water and more calcium carbonate deposition. It is part of an extended equilibrium in which th e protons given off by the carbonic acid CANNOT affect tiself. Marine organisms are more resistant to pH change than these clowns want to admit. During the day, ocean pH in a bay or estuary can go from 8 up >10. This means that they are resilient regarding pH.
There is no evidence at all that CO2 can alter the pH of seawater, which is a complex buffer system that resists pH changes, particularly against a weak acid such as carbonic acid.
Do they realize that calcium is constantly being replenished in the oceans as erosion carries it from the land to the sea?

September 7, 2012 1:58 pm

Being published in PNAS at all indicates that the paper has a 99.9% chance of being trash. Their publication of a paper based on consensus science, analyzing the peer-reviewed, not reviewed, number of papers, etc. shows that they no longer can discern between science, junk science and garbage. As if being peer reviewed is meaningful any more now that they allow pal view in its place.

September 7, 2012 2:27 pm

footbal should be football.

September 7, 2012 3:04 pm

Seems to me they are confounding many points. Asserting that low Ca is the problem, when forest SOIL is not where they live… they live in the runoff that will be higher in Ca as it’s leached out of the soil…
Then there is the leap to acidity (in an alkaline ocean…) causing Ca to be unavailable (a flat out assumption not supported by the facts) in an ocean where all that Ca must eventually end up. So much, in fact, that gigatons of it deposit as Limestone and Dolomite rocks globally (one of the major rock types of the crust) which then dutifully erodes back into, yes, the oceans…
It’s all part of the broken “Running Out” idea. Soil running out of Ca… We never “run out” of minerals and elements; the Earth recycles them….
Oh, and like the world needs more flies…

David A. Evans
September 7, 2012 4:46 pm

michaeljmcfadden says:
September 7, 2012 at 8:36 am
You and Dave Hitt lead me to this whole con. Can’t remember which of the two of you is the non-smoker & which is the occasional cigar man.
I had thought this had been dismissed years ago as rubbish, I certainly had way back, possibly the ’80s, can’t remember.
Anywho, fast forward from the ’80s to about 2007, I find the whole climate has changed, even though mine hasn’t. Well, it has but nothing I didn’t see before.

September 7, 2012 5:04 pm

September 7, 2012 at 1:06 pm
Sorry no one is buying it. What we are witnessing is just more of the very thing that Socialists have been doing for 100 years. Propaganda works best when its multimodal and at saturation levels. By writing what you have all you are doing is demonstrating that you are a good little useful ‘tool’. I bet you even believe the silliness that you wrote.

September 7, 2012 5:15 pm

September 7, 2012 at 1:47 pm
I used to raise daphnia for my many aquaria. One winter I kinda spaced one of my daphnia tanks that I had set under a tree during the summer. When I remembered to check on it it was December. The thing was full of pine needles and most probably, all of the water in it was urban rainwater from the monsoon storms. Its PH was around 5.0. The daphnia was just fine. I wonder if these jokers who call themselves scientist know that there are daphnia filled environments [where] the natural PH is 4.0!

September 7, 2012 5:25 pm

Those fleas are poorly equipped to deal with Helvetica Scenario.

The pilot episode of “Look Around You” refutes this paper easily. “Calcium has a variety of uses, many of which are very important to humans. Perhaps its most important function is in human teeth, which are made of calcium. It is therefore integral to human survival, as without calcium, man would be unable to process food and would starve.” They additionally state “It is also important to never give any calcium to a gypsy . ”
Any predators trying to eat the poorly defended fleas will also suffer from ‘Helvetica Scenario’ from living in the same calcium deficient water. This will result in the demise of all the predators of the fleas, being unable to eat because they don’t have teeth.

September 7, 2012 7:48 pm

I grant that PNAS is a slightly better venue (IMO) than Science and Nature, but subject to the same incestuous “pal review” process that has reduced these previously fine journals to shadows of their former selves. When I say puff-piece, I mean that the paper states (even concludes with) speculative conclusions not based on verified scientific method supporting them. I am basing this, yes, on the press release summaries, since I would not pay for this “paper”.
The internet is the new standard for peer review. If a scientific paper cannot pass the muster of the blogosphere, then it is not peer reviewed, in my opinion. Let the sunshine hit it, then we shall see if it melts.

September 7, 2012 8:14 pm

Scott says:
September 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm
This will result in the demise of all the predators of the fleas, being unable to eat because they don’t have teeth.
Well stated irony. Any deviation of an organism from the equilibrium population brings consequences that lead to a more fragile new population, since the homeostatic populations have adapted for eons to be the most energetically favorable, therefore stable population.
If they adapt a spiny hard skin, for example in response to a predator, this costs energy, perhaps motility, so it is less efficient. The genetic spread will always try to revert to the energy efficient state.
The new adaptation is temporary. Look at the Galapagos finch. When seeds become hard in dry times, the genetic spread allows for offspring with heavier beaks to break to seeds. But the finch population “hates” the heavier beak, since it costs loss of efficiency in other areas, such as preening or mating. Thus, when seeds become softer, the finch “can’t wait” to get a thinner beak and the population goes back to the starting, most energy efficient population (homeorhesis).
It’s funny that this has been used as evidence for evolution, but the finch adaptation is really anti-evolutionary. It keeps a finch as a finch, always within reach of the equilibrium, favored population, and always retaining the fringe characteristics in the genomic spread. Only after long ages of adaptation can a species change to a new set point, by losing some of the genetic information through disuse by the surviving offspring. The sifting out of these codons, which are usually multiple to ensure retention of adaptability in case the environment revisits the previous state, can take prohibitively long periods. The genome “wants” to retain versatility, with genes that can respond to the environment by turning on and off in response to signals (the quasi-Lamarckian paradigm).

Gunga Din
September 7, 2012 9:03 pm

I don’t have a problem with the use of words like “may” to express uncertainty in a scientific study.
I do have a problem when uncertainty is not expressed in “climate science”.

September 8, 2012 12:26 am

Gunga, “May” and “up to” are two of the favorites for “scientific propagandists” in pushing their arguments. The words fly right by the average layperson reading the story and simply translate into definites and normally-expected-numbers. “Increase” and “decrease” are used the same way: a University of Georgia study frightened many campuses into adopting outdoor smoking bans after showing a 162% increase in cotinine or somesuch among “students exposed to outdoor smoke.” The fact that the change was from virtually zero to STILL virtually zero (think nano and picograms, and also that it occurred only after six hours of sitting in the middle of a “smoke pit”) flew right by the average person: all they remembered was “massive increase in a poison of some kind” in their thinking: just as the propagandists intended in spreading the story.
The one thing that would lead me to take this story seriously is that I don’t think there are any big white-roof/black-roof lobbying/granting organizations out there pushing researchers to come up with the “preferred results” (though heck, maybe there ARE a few and one of them sponsored this!)

September 8, 2012 6:43 am

If they had any supporting science, they wouldn’t use the word “may”.
But there is a contradiction.
Because when scientists don’t say may there is much exercise of the “science is not settled” debating point. That’s why I to disregard all of the huffing and puffing and obsessive need to point score that amounts to zero points.

September 8, 2012 1:41 pm
Is the shallow water pH following the atmospheric CO2 increase?

michael hart
September 8, 2012 6:09 pm

Transparent pond life is always fascinating. The water-fleas are very interesting too.
Also, I wonder what the pH is in the unknown sink that contains the accumulated ~50% of anthropogenic CO2 that goes AWOL every year?

Amino Acids in Meteorites
September 8, 2012 11:58 pm

Speaking of fleas……
Fleas from 230,000,000 years ago found ‘preserved’ in droplets of amber, 100,000,000 years older than the ones from “Jurassic Park”

Anthea Collins
September 9, 2012 3:57 am

Tadpoles vegetarians? Frog spawn (in a tank) … lots of tadpoles … a few very large tadpoles… no sign of any others! Where’d they go?

September 10, 2012 4:43 am

I really wish you would fix the “footbal” mistake I mentioned a few days ago, it looks amateurish. If it is meant to say “footbal” then at least put (sic) around it so people know you are quoting someone’s mistake.

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