Scientists from the University of Texas at Austin have found that tropical plankton could be negatively affected by climate change.
The existence of tropical plankton is a recent ocean phenomenon resulting from the relatively recent 8 million years of ocean cooling. The scientists used microfossils to study a group of zooplankton called Foraminifera, which inhabited an area relatively distant from their current distribution. As the ocean cooled, they moved closer to the tropics where they are today.
The findings cast a disturbing shadow over the health of tropical waters since tropical plankton is a key component of the food chain at the base of the ecosystem, which can have a negative impact on the populations and communities that rely on them.
According to Adam Woodhouse, the study lead author and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics:
“Earth’s current biosphere evolved for ice ages. By suddenly switching to an Earth of 8 million years ago, we’re not just killing off a few species, we’re changing the entire chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans, and nothing is ready for that.”
While Tracy Aze, associate professor of marine micropaleontology at the University of Leeds, who helped develop the plankton database, added:
“The fact that we’ve already begun seeing an appreciable difference in the diversity of many marine groups like fish and the plankton means we might be closer to certain temperature tipping points than we thought.”
However, research co-lead Anshuman Swain from Harvard University stated:
“The important thing now is to determine how the effect of climate change on those species will cascade across food webs.”
You can find the original research here.