Noise isn’t the only problem with shipping

Written by on November 9, 2016 in Technology
Humpback whales feeding in shipping lanes. Photo credit: NOAA NEFSC.

Humpback whales feeding in shipping lanes. Photo credit: NOAA NEFSC.

Shipping has been in the news many times before as a form of noise pollution that has a serious impact on marine life. New research from the University of Southampton found that human forms of transport (like shipping) have a big impact on marine species and their habitats not just because of noise. The research demonstrates that it can disrupt natural genetic patterns.

Typically, populations that are geographically close to each other are more genetically similar than distant populations, lead author and PhD student Jamie Hudson explained in a news release.

Man-made activities like shipping, however, “promote the artificial transport of species and bring distant populations together, leading to the crossing of individuals and therefore genetic material. The disruption of pre-modern genetic patterns through anthropogenic activities is an unprecedented form of global change that has unpredictable consequences for species and their native distributions.”

Adult Ciona intestinalis. Photo credit: perezoso, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Adult Ciona intestinalis. Photo credit: perezoso, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The researchers studied a tunicate (Ciona intestinalis) in the English Channel to see how shipping impact its genetic makeup. This tunicate has limited natural movement and is often reported in artificial habitats (like marinas) so it is easily transported by human activities.

“We found that C. intestinalis from some locations exhibited a shuffling of genetic material, as expected by human-mediated transport (boats can travel further distances than the larvae),” Hudson explained. “However, unexpectedly some of the populations exhibited the opposite pattern (some populations were not genetically similar), despite there being evidence of artificial transport between these locations – this may be due to natural dispersal or premodern population structure.”

They concluded that transport can alter the genetic composition of some species and have unknown long-term consequences.

To learn more, read the news release: Human transport has unpredictable genetic and evolutionary consequences for marine species.

Copyright © 2016 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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