Toxic algae do not only make certain plankton inebriated, but they also increase the risk of them getting eaten by predators, says a new marine study.
It looks like getting drunk is universal, although the effects can be significantly different. While humans are more likely to crash and wake up with a terrible hangover after a night of drinking, the calanoid copepods (Temora longicornis) plankton may become more active, swimming a lot faster.
The study was conducted by U.S. researchers led by Rachel S. Lasley-Rasher of the University of Maine's School of Marine Sciences.
The team wanted to find out the effects of consuming toxic algae known as Alexandrium fundyense to the survival, fitness, swimming behavior and egg production among the copepods.
Watch them eat the toxic algae from Inside Science:
The results suggest that while the toxic algae don't have any effect on the fitness and survival of the plankton - they even continue producing eggs - it tends to increase their swimming rate, a behavior that researchers found weird. After all, they expect the plankton to slow down.
The changed behavior is also risky as the plankton now swim in a straighter instead of meandering pattern.
"Models suggest that these changes could lead to a 25-56 percent increase in encounter frequency between copepods and their predators," said the study in Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Sciences.
Note, however, that these plankton are not trying to get themselves drunk. Also, they do eat other types of food.
They just have an insatiable appetite for this toxic algae found in the waters of New England. Nevertheless, this wouldn't have been an issue if it weren't for the fact that harmful algal blooms (HAB) can occur, perhaps even more frequently, in which case these toxic algae become aplenty.
Moreover, as the copepods are likely to be eaten by their predators like shrimps because of their altered behavior, the algal bloom may only last longer, endangering the rest of the species up the food chain.
"This work highlights the need to determine how ingesting HAB species alters grazer behavior as this can have significant impacts on the fate of HAB toxins in marine systems," said the study.