Monday, 3 July 2017

Italy’s drying lakes imperil rare shrimp species found only here

22 June 2017

By Lou Del Bello

A tiny ancient shrimp found only in a single small lake tucked away in the mountains of central Italy could soon disappear, as a combined result of climate change and an earthquake that hit the area last year.

The fairy shrimp (Chirocephalus marchesonii) has evolved from a species native to the Himalayan region. Its ancestors are thought to have reached the Appennine range during the last ice age, after their eggs latched onto the feet of migratory birds.

“Over the millennia, the shrimp has adapted to the specific environment of Lake Pilato, and its reproductive cycle is in sync with the seasonal hydrologic balance of the basin,” says Maria Gaetana Barelli of the Sibillini Park authority. The species is unique among freshwater shrimps in the area for its Asian origins, offering clues on the movement of animal species in prehistoric times.
Barelli says that to hatch, the shrimp’s eggs need such a complex combination of environmental parameters that her five-year-long research project wasn’t enough to make them hatch in captivity. This is why she is concerned that the crustacean may go extinct if the small lake it inhabits undergoes significant environmental changes.

Big shock
“The major earthquake that struck the region last summer has certainly caused deep shocks in the water system of these mountains,” says Alessandro Rossetti, a biologist with the Sibillini Park authority. “The water levels in the basin are abnormally low this year, and we still don’t know if this is due to a disruption of the aquifer. If that was the case, the lake would permanently dry out and this unique shrimp would disappear.”

A group of scientists flew drones over the lake and analysed its biochemistry, looking at factors such as temperature and acidity to gain insight into the underground water system that feeds the basin. However, more research is needed to establish whether the earthquake has fatally damaged it.

The shrimp can survive long dry spells because it buries its eggs under the lake bed, where they can remain alive and intact for more than a year until conditions are right to hatch. Hikers are the most immediate threat to the eggs, because they kill most of them by walking on dry areas of the lake bed.

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