A single degree of warming in the shallow waters off the Antarctic Peninsula could significantly benefit some species at the expense of others, a new study has found.
(From ABC Science/ by Bianca Nogrady) — In what is claimed to be the “most realistic ocean warming experiment to date” researchers placed heated panels on the sea floor and monitored the growth of sediment-dwelling species on the panels over nine months.
While the panels only warmed the water a few millimetres above the panel surface, it was enough to trigger major changes in the seabed communities, the scientists reported in the journal Current Biology.
“There was one species that really dominated that cover … that really took off with the warming, and managed to cover over the panels,” said the study’s lead author Gail Ashton, from the British Antarctic Survey and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
A rise of 1C nearly doubled the growth of Fenestrulina rugula; a tiny filter-feeding marine invertebrate.
“You can imagine that one species taking over the whole space and rarer species wouldn’t be able to compete with that,” Dr Ashton said.
Another species — the marine worm Romanchella perrieri — showed a 70 per cent increase in territory compared to the panels that were kept at ambient temperature.
Results of 2 degree shift less clear-cut
At 2C above ambient water temperature, the winners and losers were less clear-cut, and there was more variation in growth patterns on the panels.
“So have we maybe just pushed some of the individuals within the species to the level where they can’t cope; some are able to maintain that increased growth whereas others just aren’t able to cope with that change,” Dr Ashton said.
The 2C difference with the surrounding water temperature may also have been too much of a shock, in an environment where the water temperature varies by no more than 4C over the year.
“Some of our temperature curves and predictions in terms of chemical reactions and biological processes just seem to be inherently different at very cold temperatures.”