“Manatees are the proverbial ‘canaries in the mineshaft,’ as they serve as indicators of their environment and may reflect the overall health of marine ecosystems,” explained Alonso Aguirre, executive director of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation.
The research team studied the behavioral ecology, life history and health of manatees over ten years in a relatively secluded area in Belize.
They picked this small fishing town as their location because it began as a mostly undisturbed area that gained in popularity over time–attracting more tourists and therefore more boats, more fishing, and more stress.
Manatees are good indicators of the health of the ecosystem because they can be highly susceptible or highly resistant to certain environmental stressors. They often feel the effects long before other species do.
“Studying them may help us predict a change that has the potential to be devastating to an ecosystem or a habitat if left unaddressed,” said Aguirre.
“This study is a benchmark aiding in early disease detection and the current environmental impacts affecting the epidemiologic patterns in the manatees of this region,” he concluded.
To learn more:
- Read the full press release from GMU, here: Manatees Reflect Quality of Health in Marine Ecosystems, Longterm Study Finds
- Find the results published in PLoS ONE, here: Health Assessment and Seroepidemiologic Survey of Potential Pathogens in Wild Antillean Manatees (Trichechus manatus manatus)
Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.