Climate change is taking a toll on forests, farms, freshwater resources, and economies all around the world. But ocean ecosystems remain the center of global warming.
Despite their vast ability to absorb heat and carbon dioxide, oceans are warming. In fact, according to scientists, the oceans have absorbed 90% of all the warming that has occurred during the past 50 years.
The ocean’s surface layer, which is home to most marine life, takes most of this heat. As a result, the top 2,300 feet of global ocean water has warmed approximately 1.5°F since 1901.
Well it turns out that a hotter ocean is also a hungrier ocean. According to a new study recently published in the journal Science, researchers discovered that predator impacts in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans peak at higher temperatures. The effects of more intense marine predation could disrupt ecosystem balances that have existed for millennia.
An international research team led by the Smithsonian Institution and Temple University analyzed predator and prey data collected from 36 sites, running along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts from Alaska in the north to Tierra de Fuego at the tip of South America. The research team found that, in warmer waters, predators’ more voracious appetites left outsized marks on the prey community. Total prey biomass plunged in warmer waters when prey were left unprotected. However, in the coldest zones, leaving prey exposed or protected made nearly no difference at all.
As the oceans continue to warm, more intense predation will create winners and losers and could jeopardize the overall health of marine ecosystems.
As the ocean heats up hungrier predators take control
Photo, posted July 14, 2017, courtesy of Jonathan Chen via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.