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  Physiological ecology
  Aspects of the physiological ecology of shallow-water marine isopods are considered here, while the special physiological challenges that confront semiterrestrial forms are dealt with elsewhere in the ODYSSEY: EVOLUTION TO LAND.
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  Behaviour is considered here, while topics of OSMOTIC REGULATION and GAS EXCHANGE are dealt with in their own sections.
Research study 1

histograms comparing numbers of isopods Exocirolana chiltoni swimming when water is agitated vs. when it is notphotograph of isopod Excirolana chiltoni courtesy Peter Bryant, University of California, IrvineEndogenous tidal rhythms are known for many marine organisms, including isopods Excirolana chiltoni on sand beaches in southern California.  As these rhythms may persist for several cycles in a constant laboratory environment, the question arises as to the mechanism of entrainment.  Possible cueing factors are drying, water movement, sediment impact, or  even perhaps the moon’s gravitational force.  This  is investigated at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California using wave-simulating devices in sand-containing glass jars.  Counts of swimming isopods show that cyclic swimming behaviour in the EXPERIMENTAL “wave simulators” remains entrained for several days, even if the sand is removed (a possible source of mechanical stimulation). Note, however, that the cyclic swimming behaviour of the CONTROL animals (also in jars but without “wave simulators”) degenerates after about a week in the absence of water movement.  Other data show that artificially imposed light cycles or variation in oxygen levels do not disrupt these rhythms (data not shown here).  The author concludes that mechanical stimulation by water agitation is likely the dominant component in maintaining activity rhythms in E. chiltoni. Enright 1965 Science 147 (3660): 864; for review of the ecological significance of endogenous behavioral patterns in animals in general see Enright 1970 Ann Rev Ecol Syst 1: 221. Photograph courtesy Peter J. Bryant, University of California, Irvine.

NOTE  horizontal blue bars in the graph indicate times of swimming activity based on an expected resynchronisation of behaviour to the wave-simulator treatment (for experimental animals) or to natural tide cycles (for the control animals0

Research study 2

In a later study at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the same author is able to maintain isopods Excirolana chiltoni for periods of up to 2mo in constant, non-tidal conditions, and again observes persistent tidal rhythms in swimming activity.  In this case, however, the activity bursts are closely correlated with the tide cycle, but with a period of about 24h 55min, or about 5min longer than the average period of the tides.  This means that loss of synchrony with the tides is gradual, amounting to about 2d over a 2mo period.  Interestingly, superimposed on this cycle is another endogenous monthly pattern that leads to maximum activity on the days of extreme high tides.  These new results force the author to abandon the previous notion of entrainment by wave vibration, for one of combined circadian/lunar involvement.  Enright 1972 J Comp Physiol 77: 141.

NOTE  while the earth rotates once on its axis every 24h, the moon travels 1/28th of its orbital circumference around the earth; thus, the earth has to “catch up” this difference every day in order to position once again any given point directly opposite the moon.  One-28th of 24h is 51min

Research study 3

histograms showing relationship of swimming activity of isopods Excirolana chiltoni with tidal cyclesAnother laboratory study on isopods Excirolana chitoni collected from beaches around the Scripps Institution of Oceanography confirms that  locomotory movements synchronise with natural tidal rhythms.  Tidal rhythms in the La Jolla area alternate between a single high and a single low per day (diurnal pattern), and 2 highs and 2 lows per day (semidiurnal pattern), with transition between them being gradual. 

In their beach habitat the isopods lie buried until times of high tide when they emerge to swim and feed for periods of 2-3h.  In the laboratory, swimming activity is on a 24.8h rhythm that approximates a diurnal tidal rhythm. Under semidiurnal conditions with 2 high tides per day the isopods emerge and swim on the higher of the 2 high tides. As the tides switch to diurnal conditions, the isopods appear to swim on both high tides during the day (see graph upper Left).

histograms showing relationship of swimming activity of isopods Excirolana chiltoni with tidal cyclesDuring diurnal patterns, the isopods continue with this pattern, with swimming activity occurings on every high tide (see graph lower Right). This natural rhythm can be disrupted or shifted at any time by  agitating the  aquarium-tank water to simulate wave action on a beach.  The isopods begin to swim and this subsequently re-jigs the natural rhythm.  One such stimulus per day initiates a diurnal activity, while 2 such stimuli per day evoke semidiurnal activity.  The changes persist for several days after cessation of treatment. The author conducts these experiments under conditions of constant light, so effects of natural alternating light-dark cycles on Excirolana’s activity rhythm are not known.  Klapow 1972 J Comp Physiol 79: 233.

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