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Tiny Organisms in Carbon Management Task May Impact Climate Change

Oct 26, 2012 08:50 AM EDT
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Warmer temperature in the oceans could affect the growth and diversity of phytoplankton, suggests a new study.

Phytoplankton are tiny micro-organisms that play a significant role in the food chain and world's cycles of carbon. These organisms need carbon dioxide for their growth. They consume carbon through the process of photosynthesis.

Researchers from the Michigan State University have revealed that warmer oceans might force phytoplankton to thrive more near the poles and could decline in equatorial waters.

"In the tropical oceans, we are predicting a 40 percent drop in potential diversity," Mridul Thomas, MSU graduate student and one of the co-authors, said in a statement.

"If the oceans continue to warm as predicted, there will be a sharp decline in the diversity of phytoplankton in tropical waters and a poleward shift in species' thermal niches, if they don't adapt to climate change."

Warm waters also play a key role in the growth of phytoplankton. They have adapted to current local temperatures prevailing across the ocean. Phytoplankton, in fact, grow faster in the equatorial temperatures.

With the global temperatures predicted to rise over the next century, it is not known whether the phytoplanton will be able to adapt to the changes in the environment.

According to the researchers, these organisms might suffer decline in their growth and diversity as they may not be able to regulate their temperatures or migrate to other regions. It could affect the world's cycle of carbon.

This, in turn, could cause a major impact on climate change.

Experts suggest it is very important to project the impact of the changes as it would help scientists around the world.

"This is an important contribution to predicting plankton productivity and community structure in the oceans of the future," Thomas said.

"The work addresses how phytoplankton species are affected by a changing environment, and the really difficult question of whether evolutionary adaptation to those changes is possible."

The findings of the study are published in the journal Science Express.

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