June 1, 2013, by Tim Radford
Squid – centre of ocean ecosystem
Image: Tokyo Sea Life Park
Embargoed until 2301 GMT Saturday 1 June Creature at centre of ocean ecosystem faces uncertain future as waters warm LONDON, 1 June – That jet-propelled cephalopod of the seas, the squid, could be in for a hard time. As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rise, so the oceans become more acid, and this is not good news for one of the most important animals of the ocean ecosystem. Aran Mooney of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US and other colleagues decided to take a look at what changing pH levels might do for the creature sometimes served up diced into rings, and fried, as calamari, or sometimes as the sauce in a pasta, cooked in its own ink. The researchers took both male and female longfin squid – a commercially-prized variety – from the waters of Vineyard Sound off the coast of Massachusetts and kept them in a laboratory tank until they mated. Some of the eggs were transferred to an experimental tank, some kept in existing seawater. Experiments One sample tank in effect “breathed” today’s air. The other was subjected to air enriched with higher carbon dioxide levels – dissolving as carbonic acid – until the tank water reached the higher acidity levels predicted 100 years from now. Then they noted how the baby squid developed. The scientists reported in the journal PLoS One that animals raised in the highly acidic water took longer to develop, were five per cent smaller on average, and some developed malformed statoliths – carbonate crystals that help the squid orient itself while swimming. Food chain “The fact that we found an impact in everything we measured was pretty astounding,” said Dr Mooney. “Squid are at the centre of the ocean ecosystem – nearly all animals are eating or eaten by squid. So if anything happens to these guys, it has repercussions up the food chain and down the food chain.” In 2011 US fishermen landed $100 million worth of squid: the creature is also food for tuna and hake, both commercially valuable catches. The next step in the research is to look at the effects of differing acidic levels and on the impact of changing sea temperatures. Climate change isn’t the only challenge that confronts the creatures of the sea: overfishing and ocean pollution are also big and growing problems. But warm water fish can migrate to cooler temperatures, and have already begun to do so. Struggle to adapt Governments can regulate fish catches and establish marine reserves – and have begun to do so. But the research into the changing chemistry of the seas really is a voyage of discovery: animals evolved over millions of years to adapt very precisely to today’s conditions, and as they develop they quite literally fashion themselves with the materials in the sea water around them. Swift changes in ocean chemistry – and in evolutionary terms, a century is a very short time – could affect ocean ecosystems in unprecedented and unpredictable ways. – Climate News Network
Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.