Migration to the north: climate change puts plankton on the move

  • In Science
  • 2019-05-22 17:24:51Z
  • By Sara HUSSEIN

Tokyo (AFP) - Climate change that has warmed the world's oceans has prompted a "worrying" northward migration among some communities of the smallest organisms in the sea: plankton.

That is the conclusion of new research published Thursday in the journal Nature examining the make-up of plankton communities across the northern hemisphere.

The unassuming creatures are sometimes referred to as the "building blocks" of the ocean because of their importance in the food chain, and their apparent migration is another indicator of the profound effect of climate change on the planet.

"This isn't good news for marine ecosystems," said Lukas Jonkers, the study's lead author and a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Bremen's Center for Marine Environmental Sciences.

"We see that we have pushed marine ecosystems, or at least this group of zooplankton, away from their natural state. I think that's very worrying," he told AFP.

"It means that even if we manage to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees, which is doubtful, ecosystems around the globe are likely to be profoundly affected."

The subject of the research is the organism known as planktonic foraminifera, a kind of plankton with a distinctive hard shell.

When these ubiquitous creatures die, they fall to the ocean floor like snow, and their hardy shells are able to resist the ravages of time.

That means they create an indispensable and unparalleled record of what plankton communities in different parts of the world have looked like going back centuries.

And that record solves a long-standing problem for researchers trying to examine how marine life has been affected by climate change -- a clear baseline.

Jonkers decided to harness the record and compare samples collected in the modern era, between 1978 and 2013, with ocean floor sediment going back centuries.

What he found was that modern communities of plankton often bore little resemblance to the communities recorded in the sediment below.

Instead, the modern communities looked like the sediment record in waters further south, suggesting plankton species have migrated north as the water temperature there became more like their original habitats.

- Clear pattern of change -

"Everything moved towards the north," said Jonkers.

"At one location you always find many different species, but we now see that this species community is composed of different species that like warmer water better."

For example, the modern species that were seen near Greenland are the same as those in the pre-industrial sediment found further south.

The study looked at nearly 4,000 samples from a range of zones across the northern hemisphere, so it is not yet clear how modern plankton communities in southern waters compare to their predecessors in those tropical locations.

But Jonkers said the pattern of change in the locations studied was clear.

"Where the temperature has changed more, the species has changed more."

It was not possible to pinpoint a precise timeline for the change, but Jonkers said it appeared to be gradual.

And so far, he said, there was not evidence of species extinction, just movement of communities from one location to another.

But the migration could pose a problem for plankton and the animals that rely on them for food if the new arrivals don't adapt quickly enough to survive among the other residents of their warmer environments.

The research joins a growing body of evidence about the way climate change affects the ocean.

In March, a team studying seals and whales in the Arctic found the animals were being forced to shift their feeding habits as the ocean warms, melting ice and prompting fish stocks to move.


More Related News

GOP strike in Oregon over climate change bill enters 5th day
GOP strike in Oregon over climate change bill enters 5th day
  • US
  • 2019-06-24 21:01:48Z

The eleven GOP senators, who are in the political minority, fled the Oregon Legislature on June 20 to deny Democrats the quorum that's required to vote on any legislation. Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, activated the state police to seek out the rogue lawmakers and bring them back to the Statehouse for the vote, but on Monday the senators were still absent. Many have fled the state, where the Oregon State Police has no jurisdiction.

Global warming = more energy use = more warming
Global warming = more energy use = more warming

Even modest climate change will increase global energy demand by up to a quarter before mid-century, and by nearly 60 percent if humanity fails to curb greenhouse gas emissions, researchers said Monday. In 2018, oil and gas accounted for two thirds of global electricity generation, while solar and wind contributed less than 10 percent, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Hydro and nuclear energy -- which do not emit CO2 -- power a quarter of global electricity, but also have limited potential to scale up quickly.

Agriculture Department buries studies showing dangers of climate change
Agriculture Department buries studies showing dangers of climate change

The Trump administration has stopped promoting government-funded research into how higher temperatures can damage crops and pose health risks.

Police arrest 70 climate change protesters outside New York Times
Police arrest 70 climate change protesters outside New York Times

Police arrested 70 environmental protesters outside the New York Times headquarters who laid down in the street and climbed onto the building to demand the newspaper start referring to climate change as a climate emergency, police and media reports said. New York police arrested 67 people and Port Authority police arrested three others, a police spokesman said. Protesters blocked the street by lying down in a "die-in" and affixed a banner to the skyscraper in midtown Manhattan saying "climate change = mass murder," with the word "change" crossed out and replaced with "emergency," according to pictures posted by the website of 1010 Wins radio.

Arrests at protest over New York Times
Arrests at protest over New York Times' 'unacceptable' climate coverage

* Protesters block avenue between Port Authority and NYT * Extinction Rebellion calls for better coverage of climate crisisActivists sit on an intersection as others are taken into custody by police officers outside the New York Times building. Photograph: Julio Cortez/APA climate change protest orchestrated by the Extinction Rebellion activist group briefly blocked Eighth Avenue in New York on Saturday afternoon, between the Port Authority transit hub and the home of the New York Times.The New York police department (NYPD) said 70 people were arrested as they called for more effective media coverage of the dangers of climate change, in a dramatic demonstration that saw people stage a...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


Top News: Science

Hit "Like"
Don't miss any important news
Thanks, you don't need to show me this anymore.