Speedy evolution may help sea urchins survive

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 Rapid adaptation could be sea urchins’ primary weapon against acidification and climate change as the carbon content of the ocean increases.


“What we want to know is, given that this is a process that happens over time, can marine animals adapt? Could evolution come to the rescue?” says postdoctoral researcher Morgan Kelly, from the department of ecology, evolution, and marine biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Easily identified by their spherical symmetry and prickly barbs, sea urchins are found on the sea floor all over the world. They are considered a keystone species, meaning their population has an important impact on the rest of the undersea ecosystem. Too many of them and their habitat becomes barren and other algae-eating species disappear; too few and their predators—including sea mammals, seabirds, and fish—lose an important food source.

Written By: UC SANTA BARBARA (US) —
continue to source article at futurity.org

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    • In reply to #1 by aquilacane:

      Way more important than Rick fucking Perry but you couldn’t tell by the comments.

      I often wonder that myself, important Science only gets a couple of comments but “politician talks shite” gets loads.

  1. I’ve been trying to educate myself on biology recently and this article reminds me of an issue that has occurred to me as I read through a biology text book. Everywhere in the book there were discussions of how various factors drive organisms into things like an ESS. And it occurred to me that the reason for that is that the Earth has been fairly stable for quite a long time. The fact about climate change that I hadn’t appreciated until reading the bio text book (and surprisingly don’t see people discussing) is that on the scale of geological time it represents a massive sudden change in essentially every ecosystem on the planet. So when scientists talk about the effects of climate change they really are being highly conservative. All they can talk about are the known effects that we can predict based on how temperature effects organisms now. But (and I feel like Rumsfeld saying this) there are all sorts of unknown unknowns, effect that we can’t even come close to predicting because relationships that have evolved into stability over millenia are suddenly going to be thrown into chaos. I suspect that this may be partly at the core of the Bee problem for example.

  2. @OP – Easily identified by their spherical symmetry and prickly barbs, sea urchins are found on the sea floor all over the world. They are considered a keystone species, meaning their population has an important impact on the rest of the undersea ecosystem. Too many of them and their habitat becomes barren and other algae-eating species disappear; too few and their predators—including sea mammals, seabirds, and fish—lose an important food source.

    These could be a misleading example, because ocean acidification can cause increased algal growth, while there is a gross reduction of other life forms. The urchins could benefit in the short term from the increase in algae.
    While the OP article gives hope for some adaptation in some species, the long term on-going increase in acidification is likely to be disastrous for reefs, fish stocks etc.

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/04/ocean-acidification/liittschwager-photography

    There is a severe contrast in comparing the before and after acidification of picture 2

    At Castello Aragonese, a volcanic island off Naples, Italy, healthy seafloor looks like this: a lumpy quilt of red sponges, white barnacles, lilac coralline algae, sea urchins, and (near the center of the photograph) one well-camouflaged fish. It’s a tompot blenny.

    and picture 3 on the link.

    A few hundred yards from the preceding scene, CO₂ bubbling from seafloor vents acidifies the water to levels that might one day prevail all over the oceans. Dull mats of algae replace the colorful diversity—”fair warning,” says biologist Jason Hall-Spencer.

    There is an associated article 3 page article here:- http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/04/ocean-acidification/kolbert-text

    • In reply to #4 by Alan4discussion:

      The urchins could benefit in the short term from the increase in algae.

      On the coast of BC, the sea urchins mainly eat kelp. When the urchins have a population explosion, the kelp forest disappears, and sea otters thrive. The sea otters drive the urchins to near extinction, and the kelp forests return. Populations oscillate drastically. Sea urchins of course occur all over the world. I don’t know what they eat elsewhere.

      • In reply to #7 by Roedy:

        In reply to #4 by Alan4discussion:

        The urchins could benefit in the short term from the increase in algae.

        On the coast of BC, the sea urchins mainly eat kelp. When the urchins have a population explosion, the kelp forest disappears, and sea otters thrive. The sea otters drive the urchins to near extinction, and the kelp forests return. Populations oscillate drastically. Sea urchins of course occur all over the world. I don’t know what they eat elsewhere.

        This is the normal cycle of population explosions followed by population crashes. Humans have caused extremes in some places by hunting sea-otters.

        Just to clarify – algae vary in size from strands of pond slime, to giant kelp!

        Kelps are large seaweeds (algae) belonging to the brown algae (Phaeophyceae) in the order Laminariales. There are about 30 different genera.

        Kelp grows in underwater “forests” (kelp forests) in shallow oceans, and is thought to have appeared in Miocene, 23 to 5 million years ago.[2] The organisms require nutrient-rich water with temperatures between 6 and 14 °C (43 and 57 °F). They are known for their high growth rate — the genera Macrocystis and Nereocystis can grow as fast as half a metre a day, ultimately reaching 30 to 80 metres (100 to 260 ft) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelp

  3. On the effect of climate change: When one reads of a rise in temperature of 2 or 3 degrees (celsius) that doesn’t sound so bad. A bit warmer would be nice in many places. I think this is a common perception, like, just a couple of degrees, what’s all the fuss?

    But imagine the planet as if it was a child, your child: normal temperature 37C=98.6F. Now imagine you find your child’s temperature elevated by 3 degrees: 40C = 104F. That’s quite a fever, and something you would need to be concerned about.

    Not my idea. Read it in “Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver. Where it is phrased much better. In any case, I’d not seen or heard it elsewhere, and it seems worth sharing.

    • In reply to #5 by OHooligan:

      On the effect of climate change: When one reads of a rise in temperature of 2 or 3 degrees (celsius) that doesn’t sound so bad. A bit warmer would be nice in many places. I think this is a common perception, like, just a couple of degrees, what’s all the fuss?

      Here is a way of making it clear what it really means:

      Computer models show we can expect a five degree centigrade (nine degrees Fahrenheit) increase in average temperature within 100 years. This is far from the worst case scenario. (The worst case is a runaway greenhouse effect.) Five degrees Celsius does not sound like much, however, consider that the earth is a mere five degrees warmer on average than it was during the last ice age. Another way of looking at it is that a five degrees Celsius warming represents a change equivalent to moving from San Francisco (average temp 12°C (54°F) ) to Los Angeles (average temp 18°C (64°F), or from Los Angeles to San Antonio Texas (average temperature 22°C (72°F)).

      Well so what? Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a warmer climate? There are at least four drawbacks:

      1. You may find you have to run your air conditioner year round. Where are we going to get all the extra electricity to run the air conditioners? By the law of supply and demand, electricity prices will go through the roof, and you may find yourself unable to afford to run your air conditioner.
      2. With higher temperatures, water evaporates more quickly. Global warming disrupts rainfall patterns bringing extra rain to some places and drought to others. For those in drought, tap water will have to be brought in from further and further away. This means higher water bills. It also means skyrocketing food costs since the farmers need huge amounts of water for irrigation. Every degree rise requires 10% more water just to break even.
      3. If you live in Alberta or Saskatchewan or in the Ganges river valley, your tap water comes from glacier meltwater. Those regions will experience summer water shortages.
      4. The trees can’t pack up and move to a cooler climate. We lost many of our grand fir trees in the summer of 2002 due to heat and drought. You would pretty well have to cut them down and replant with new heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant species. It will take a generation for the newly planted forests to mature.

      And this is just the begining.

      Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could
      be second only to global nuclear war.

      ~ Environment Canada

  4. So the smaller the creature, the better the chance it has to adapting to a hot, carbonic acid ocean. However, corals don’t seem to be very adaptable. They have been “coddled” far too long in very stable conditions. According to Dr. Boris Worm, nearly all the large food fish will be gone by 2048 ( presuming we continue as now fighting over the dwindling stocks, trying to eliminate them to drive up prices especially Mitsubishi and the blue fin tuna). And on top of that, those large species would would adapt most slowly. I read somewhere than any animal with a calcium carbonate shell is a big trouble. The acid erodes away their shell faster than they can make it. These also include tiny zooplankton. I am just about beside myself with fury over man’s war on the oceans.

  5. The last time, 3 million years ago, when CO₂ levels were 400 ppm (what they are now), average temperatures were 8.0°C (14.4°F) higher than today and the seas were 40 metres (43.74 yards) higher than today. We are on target for much higher 450 ppm by 2050. Because the oceans are so huge, like a giant heated swimming pool, they take centuries for them to warm up, so the drastic effects will not be immediately noticeable. On the other hand, if we eventually take corrective action, it will require centuries for that to take effect too.

    We set our course for oceans 40 meters higher than now. We have already released all the necessary CO₂. It is just a matter of waiting for for the “cake” to bake.

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