Antarctic animals: could climate change help species such as jellyfish?

Antarctic animals: could climate change help species such as jellyfish?
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A study of Antarctic animals shows that while climate change affects many species such as the humpback whale and emperor penguin negatively, some open-water feeding animals such as jellyfish will benefit.

The new study has been published in Frontiers in Marine Science. The scientists from the British Antarctic Survey used risk assessments similar to those used for setting occupational safety limits in the workplace, to determine the winners, which include jellyfish and starfish, and the losers of Antarctic climate-change impacts, including krill, the Adèlie and chinstrap penguins, and the humpback whale.

Seabird ecologist and co-author of this study, Mike Dunn, said: “We took a similar approach to risk assessments used in the workplace, but rather than using occupational safety limits, we used information on the expected impacts of climate change on each animal. We assessed many different animal types to give an objective view of how biodiversity might fare under unprecedented change.”

The negative impacts of climate change include temperature rise, the reduction of sea-ice, and changes in food availability. However, a surprising benefit of climatic warming in the Antarctic is that it could open up new areas of the sea floor as a habitat to some Antarctic animals.

Dr Simon Morley, the lead author, who is based at the British Antarctic Survey, said: “One of the strongest signals of climate change in the Western Antarctic is the loss of sea ice, receding glaciers and the break-up of ice shelves. Climate change will affect shallow water first, challenging the animals who live in this habitat in the very near future. While we show that many Antarctic marine species will benefit from the opening up of new areas of sea floor as habitat, those associated with sea ice are very much at risk.”

As well as jellyfish, the risk assessment also revealed that Antarctic animals which are bottom-feeders, scavengers and predators, such as starfish, sea urchins and worms, may gain from the effects of climate change.

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