Recently biologists have been interested in a tide-associated periodic behavior displayed bythe diatom Hantzschia virgata, a microscopic golden-brown alga that inhabits that portion of a shoreline washed by tides (the intertidal zone). Diatoms of this species, sometimes called "commuter" diatoms, remain burrowed in the sand during high tide, and emerge on the sand surface during the daytime low tide. Just before the sand is inundated by the rising tide, the diatoms burrow again. Some scientists hypothesize that commuter diatoms know that it is low tide because they sense an environmental change, such as an alteration in temperature or a change in pressure caused by tidal movement. However, when diatoms are observed under constant conditions in a laboratory, they still display periodic behavior, continuing to burrow on schedule for several weeks. This indicates that commuter diatoms, rather than relying on environmental cues to keep time, possess an internal pacemaker or biological clock that enables them to anticipate periodic changes in the environment. A commuter diatom has an unusually accurate biological clock, a consequence of the unrelenting environmental pressures to which it is subjected; any diatoms that do not burrow before the tide arrives are washed away.
This is not to suggest that the period of this biological clock is immutably fixed. Biologists have concluded that even though a diatom does not rely on the environment to keep time, environmental factors—including changes in the tide's hydrostatic pressure, salinity, mechanical agitation, and temperature—can alter the period of its biological clock according to changes in the tidal cycle. In short, the relation between an organism's biological clock and its environment is similar to that between a wristwatch and its owner: the owner cannot make the watch run faster or slower, but can reset the hands. However, this relation is complicated in intertidal dwellers such as commuter diatoms by the fact that these organisms are exposed to the solar-day cycle as well as to the tidal cycle, and sometimes display both solar-day and tidal periods in a single behavior. Commuter diatoms, for example, emerge only during those low tides that occur during the day.
The primary purpose of the passage is to
dispute the influence of environmental factors on the tide-associated behavioral rhythms displayed by the diatom Hantzschia virgata
describe how certain tide-associated behavioral rhythms displayed by the diatom Hantzschia virgata have changed over time
compare tide-associated behavioral rhythms to solar-day behavioral rhythms in the diatom Hantzschia virgata
examine how certain biological and environmental influences affect the tide-associated behavioral rhythms displayed by the diatom Hantzschia virgata
identify certain environmental factors that limit the effectiveness of the biological clock in the diatom Hantzschia virgata