‘Sea butterfly’ life cycle threatened by climate change may impact Southern Ocean ecosystem

The world’s oceans absorb approximately a quarter of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. During absorption, CO2 reacts with seawater and oceanic pH levels fall. This is known as ocean acidification and results in lower carbon ion concentrations. Certain ocean inhabitants use carbon ion to build and sustain their shells. Pteropods, which are important components of the marine ecosystem, are among them.

Certain aspects about pteropods, including life cycles and population dynamics, are not well-studied. This is partly due to their size—some sea butterfly species measure less than a millimeter—and poor long-term survival in captivity. Now, a team of marine scientists has examined life cycles, abundance, and seasonal variability of shelled sea butterflies in the north-east Scotia Sea, a region undergoing some of the fastest climate change in the Southern Ocean.

“Decline in Antarctic Ocean pteropod populations could have cascading ramifications to the food web and carbon cycle,” said Dr. Clara Manno, a researcher at the British Antarctic Survey and corresponding author of the study published in Frontiers in Marine Science. “Knowledge about the life cycle of this keystone organism may improve prediction of ocean acidification impacts on the Antarctic ecosystem.”

Frontiers (via Phys.org), 11 May 2023. Press release.


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