In A Warmer, More Acidic Ocean, Algae Is One Organism That Will Be Able To Adapt And Survive

פורסם: 15 בספט׳ 2014, 22:05 על ידי: Sustainability Org   [ עודכן 15 בספט׳ 2014, 22:06 ]
by Katie Valentine 15/9/2014

An aerial view of an Emiliania huxleyi  bloom off the southern coast of Devon and Cornwall in England in 1999.

An aerial view of an Emiliania huxleyi bloom off the southern coast of Devon and Cornwall in England in 1999.

CREDIT: wikimedia commons

One ocean organism could end up being more resilient to climate change than previously thought, according to a new study.

The study, published Sunday in Nature Climate Change, found that one type of marine algae can evolve fast enough to keep up with climate change, becoming able to survive in ocean temperatures and acidification levels projected for the mid-2100s. In fact, the algae tended to grow more quickly once it had adapted to higher ocean temperatures, and ultimately produced a larger algae mass.

The algae, Emiliania huxleyi, reproduces rapidly: it can produce a generation a day, or more than 500 generations each year. They’re also a key food source for other ocean creatures and are carbon sinks, absorbing large quantities of carbon dioxide over their lifetimes. The algae is thought to live in every ocean except those in polar regions, and its blooms can grow so large that they’re visible from space.

Close-up of  Emiliania huxleyi

Close-up of Emiliania huxleyi

CREDIT: wikimedia commons

Though the study provides some hope for the future of the oceans in a warming world, lead author Thorsten Reusch told Reuters that the results shouldn’t be used to make assumptions about the ability of other ocean organisms to survive climate change. There have been multiple studies that have warned of the dangers marine creatures face due to climate change, including losing their fear of predators and becoming confused or hyperactive. Antarctic krill, which are a key component of the Antarctic marine food chain, are especially sensitive to warmer, more acidic water: their eggs need deep water that’s low in acid and within a narrow temperature range to hatch and grow successfully, so their survival is threatened in warming scenarios.

Shellfish, too, face major threats from ocean acidification, as highly acidic water makes it tough for shellfish larvae to grow shells. The shellfish industry is already being forced to cope with the impacts of climate change — Goose Point Oyster Co. in Willapa Bay, Washington, moved their entire oyster larvae operation to Hawaii because the high acidity levels off the coast of Washington began causing larvae deaths in 2006.

Last year, researchers from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean found that the world’s oceans are currently more acidic than they have been at any time in the last 300 million years, and that this “unprecedented” level of acidity could lead to the next mass extinction of species.

“We are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change, and exposing organisms to intolerable evolutionary pressure,” the report states. “The next mass extinction may have already begun.”

Still, like the algae study, other research into climate change’s impacts on the ocean has yielded more hopeful results. One study from July found that protecting parrotfish and other coral grazers, such as urchins, can drastically improve the health of coral reefs, ecosystems that are seriously threatened from climate change. A report from May also stressed that, with good management practices, reefs can be resilient, even recovering from things like coral bleaching.