Written by: Amneet Mann, News Editor and Agnetha de Sa, Peak Associate
Animals are slow to catch on
SFU researchers have published a study investigating and comparing the delays of animal reflexes between small and large animals.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. by researchers from SFU’s biomedical physiology and kinesiology department, has found that animal reflexes are “remarkably slow,” according to SFU News.
To put reflex time into context, researcher Heather More explained that “it takes less time for an orbiting satellite to send a signal to earth than for an elephant’s spinal cord to send a signal to its lower leg.”
The researchers found that, while large animals have slower reflexes than smaller animals, the relative delay between different-sized animals is quite small. “Relative delay is only twice as long in an elephant as in a shrew, putting large animals at only a slight disadvantage,” said More.
In contrast, a different measure of delay which considers synaptic transmission within the spinal cord is shorter in larger animals compared to small animals. This delay affects how the animals adapt to their slow reflexes. While small animals depend on “pre-reflexive control”, responding to stimuli or disturbances without thinking, larger animals have more time to think about how to respond to environmental changes.
The stars of kelp forests
Jenn Burt, a SFU resource and environmental management researcher, and her team recently discovered key relationships within B.C’.s kelp forests.
In her study, Burt and her team surveyed multiple communities annually and found that sea otters and sea stars have important roles in ensuring kelp forest health and resilience.
As “complementary predators of sea urchins,” Burt and her team observed that both otters and stars were needed in order to keep the urchin population under control. Otters eat large urchins and stars eat the medium to small urchins.
Sea urchins feast on kelp, which is an essential part of the ecosystem. Like their counterparts on land, kelp forests play vital roles in habitat formation for various species and absorbing carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere. If otters or stars are not present, urchin populations can increase, rapidly consuming kelp and negatively impacting the health of the kelp forest.