Sharks are learning to walk to survive the climate crisis

Manta shark species can walk for up to two hours, allowing them to survive in increasingly harsh environments, researchers say.

Researchers at a University of Florida say a small but feisty species of manta shark with an extraordinary ability to walk on land is evolving to better survive warmer seas and a climate crisis.

Commonly found in the shallow reefs of Australia and New Guinea, the epaulette shark can walk up to 30 meters on land using paddle-like fins and survive hypoxia, a deficiency of oxygen, up to two hours.

Florida Atlantic University (FAU) biologists and their research partners in Australia say these remarkable abilities allow reef sharks to survive in increasingly harsh environments as conditions change.

“Such locomotor characteristics may not only be essential for survival, but may also be linked to their sustained physiological performance under harsh environmental conditions, including those associated with climate change,” explains the study, published in the journal Integrative and Comparative Biology. .

“Findings to date suggest that this species has adaptations to tolerate some, but perhaps not all, of the harsh conditions predicted for the 21st century.”

Sharks with exceptional abilities

Marianne Porter, a professor of biomechanics in the FAU’s Department of Biological Sciences, said sharks can walk slowly and quickly, as well as swim, giving them an exceptional ability to cross land and reach more favorable environments than d ‘other species they don’t have.

“You may not think that beautiful tropical beaches are harsh, but in reality the environments of tidal pools and coral reefs are quite harsh, subject to hot temperatures when the tide is out and lots of change, a lot happens when the tide is low. get up and walk out,” he said.

“These little sharks can move from one tank to another, which allows them to access new tanks to look for food, or tanks with better oxygenated water.

“Our collaborators in Australia have discovered that they can withstand the conditions of climate change very well. These sharks are great models to start looking at how these changing conditions may affect vertebrates in general and other species, and can help us think about what we might see in the oceans of the future.”

Epaulettes aren’t the only shark species known to have ambulatory abilities. In 2013, Indonesian researchers discovered a species that uses its fins to “walk” along the ocean floor, looking for small fish and crustaceans.

Meanwhile, a 2020 study by researchers from the University of Queensland and international partners found that at least nine species of sharks use fins to walk in shallow water.

However, what sets epaulettes apart is their long-term tolerance to hypoxia and their ability to not only survive on land, but also to be able to travel distances of up to 30 times their body length.

“Your ability to move around and walk from place to place is really, really important,” Porter said.

The researchers noted that this gave the sharks greater agility to evade predators and reach areas with more abundant food and less competition for it.

By Richard Luscombe. Articles in English

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