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Seaweed moves south, threatening marine ecosystems

Published: Monday, October 31, 2011

Coral has garnered a lot of attention when it comes to climate change warming the oceans and affecting its habitat. But a new study shows that seaweed is also trying to escape rising water temperatures and in doing so may go extinct.

"Temperate species are moving to cooler environments," said Thomas Wernberg, a marine ecologist with the University of Western Australia, who published his research on seaweed last week in the journal Current Biology. "In Australia there are no cooler environments beyond the south coast, so if they are pushed to go beyond that they basically go extinct."

Wernberg says that seaweed has been neglected in scientific research, but that, like coral, it provides important habitat and food animals underwater, but also above. Indeed, since seaweed is more widespread, climate change could have an even broader effect on marine ecosystems, he said.

In his study, Wernberg and his team examined how communities of up to 300 seaweed species changed over time. They also looked at the locations of 52 species along the east and west coasts from 1940 to 1960 and from 1990 to 2009. Results showed that between the two periods, water temperatures increase by a couple of degrees in the southeast, and by a degree in the west. During that time, Wernberg also documented that seaweed species were moving south toward the colder waters.

On the east coast, where the warming was greater, species moved around 200 kilometers south, while on the west coast, they moved about 50 km, said Wernberg. Once they reach a certain distance, and if temperatures continue to rise, they won't be able to move any farther south, he said. Wernberg estimates that by 2070, as much as 25 percent of temperate species in Australia could go extinct (Anna Salleh, ABC Science, Oct. 28). -- JP

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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Reprinted from climatewire-10-31_11-11 with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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