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Climate Change Altering Oceanic Food Chain by Allowing Certain Microbes to Survive

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Jul 03, 2013 11:15 AM EDT
Colony of Trichodesmium bacteria roughly the size of the head of a pin
Colony of Trichodesmium bacteria roughly the size of the head of a pin. (Photo/Eric Webb) (Photo : Eric Webb- University of Southern California )

Climate change is favoring certain strains of bacteria leading to a drastic change in microbial life in the ocean, a new study has found. Researchers say that change in microbial activity in the ocean leads to changes in the entire food chain.

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The oceans have a fine balance of life that has taken millions of years to develop. A previous study had found that rising temperatures along with a high influx of nitrogen was disrupting the food chain in the ocean.

In the present study, researchers found that on a warmer earth, some organisms are more likely to survive than others.

Researchers looked at two types of cyanobacteria (those that fix atmospheric nitrogen): Trichodesmium and Crocosphaera. Other studies have shown that these two bacteria are most likely to survive in the future.

In the new study, researchers were able to determine which strains of these two bacteria will be able to cope with climate change.

 "Our findings show that CO2 has the potential to control the biodiversity of these keystone organisms in ocean biology, and our fossil fuel emissions are probably responsible for changing the types of nitrogen fixers that are growing in the ocean," said David Hutchins, professor of marine environmental biology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and lead author of the research article.

"This may have all kinds of ramifications for changes in ocean food chains and productivity, even potentially for resources we harvest from the ocean such as fisheries production," Hutchins added.

The research article is published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Recently, there has even been a rise in oceanic acidification that had led to a decline in population of many marine organisms. However, another research has shown that some organisms such as the sea urchin can adapt to the changing environment better than others. 

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