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Climate Change and Antarctica: King Crabs Threaten Biodiversity [VIDEO]

Sep 29, 2015 12:01 PM EDT
King Crab
If climate change allows shell-crushing predators such as king crabs to return to the Antarctic continental shelf, the crabs will likely disrupt the endemic marine fauna.
(Photo : Richard B. Aronson and James B. McClintock)

Warmer Arctic waters may prove extremely inviting to Bathyal king crabs that would no doubt migrate from their deep-sea homes to the shallow continental shelf surrounding the Antarctic Penisula, negitively impacting marine fauna, according to a recent Florida Institute of Technology study. 

We could see this migration within the next several decades, warns to Richard Aronson, head of Florida Tech's Department of Biological Sciences and the lead author of a recent study on the matter. 

"Because other creatures on the continental shelf have evolved without shell-crushing predators, if the crabs moved in they could radically restructure the ecosystem," Aronson said in a news release

In an attmept to get a full picture of what could happen if waters warm, researchers studied ocean salinity levels, types of sediments on the sea floor, and available food resources, but more critical data will be revealed after tracking their movements over time. 

"The only way to test the hypothesis that the crabs are expanding their depth-range is to track their movements through long-term monitoring," James McClintock, one of the study's authors from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), explained in a statement

So, researchers set out to do just that. During the 2010-2011 Antarctic summer, researchers surveyed crab's reproductive behaviors using underwater camera sleds. They observed populations on the continental slope off Marguerite Bay on the western Antarctic Peninsula, an area that is relatively close to where vulnerable marine ecosystems live along the shallow continental shelf. 

Researchers concluded that if king crabs were to migrate to shallower waters, they would initiate a process known as biotic homogenization – where two distinct communities become progressively similar and ultimately less diverse. 

A video that outlines these findings can be found online, courtesy of YouTube. 

UAB's study was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Samantha on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13

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