Penguins, starfish, whales: Which animals will win and lose in a warming Antarctic?

Seafloor predators and open-water feeding animals will benefit from climate change, while those associated with sea ice for food or breeding are most at risk

Marine Antarctic animals closely associated with sea ice for food or breeding, such the humpback whale and emperor penguin, are most at risk from the predicted effects of climate change, finds a new study published in Frontiers in Marine Science. Using risk assessments like those used for setting occupational safety limits in the workplace, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey determined the winners and losers of Antarctic climate-change impacts, which includes temperature rise, sea-ice reduction and changes in food availability. They show that seafloor predators and open-water feeding animals, like starfish and jellyfish, will benefit from the opening up of new habitat.

“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,” says Dr Simon Morley, lead author, based at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), UK. “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.”

A growing body of research on how climate change will impact Antarctic marine animals prompted the researchers to review this information in a way that revealed which species were most at risk.

“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,” explains seabird ecologist Mike Dunn, co-author of this study, which forms part of a special article collection on aquatic habitat ecology and conservation. “We assessed many different animal types to give an objective view of how biodiversity might fare under unprecedented change.”

They found that krill — crustaceans whose young feed on the algae growing under sea ice — were scored as vulnerable, in turn impacting the animals that feed on them, such as the Adèlie and chinstrap penguins and the humpback whale. The emperor penguin scored as high risk because sea ice and ice shelves are its breeding habitat.

Dunn adds, “The southern right whale feeds on a different plankton group, the copepods, which are associated with open water, so is likely to benefit. Salps and jellyfish, which are other open-water feeding animals are likely to benefit too.”

The risk assessment also revealed that bottom-feeders, scavengers and predators, such as starfish, sea urchins and worms, may gain from the effects of climate change.

“Many of these species are the more robust pioneers that have returned to the shallows after the end of the last glacial maximum, 20,000 years ago, when the ice-covered shelf started to melt and retreat,” explains Dr David Barnes, co-author of this research. “These pioneer species are likely to benefit from the opening of new habitats through loss of sea ice and the food this will provide.”

He continues, “Even if, as predicted for the next century, conditions in these shallow-water habitats change beyond the limits of these species, they can retreat to deeper water as they did during the last glacial maxima. However, these shallow-water communities will be altered dramatically – temperature-sensitive animals with calcium shells were scored as the most at risk if this happens.”

As more information becomes available, the researchers hope to improve their predictions.

Morley explains, “The next step is to assign weights to the factors and predicted impacts. For example, temperature is a factor that has major effects on cold-blooded marine animals, but will it be more of a problem than the benefit from loss of sea ice? It is very difficult to know until we have more data.”

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From EurekAlert!

Public Release: 17-Jan-2019

The original research article: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2018.00507/full

39 thoughts on “Penguins, starfish, whales: Which animals will win and lose in a warming Antarctic?

  1. Penguins, starfish, and whales! Oh My!
    Penguins, starfish, and whales! Oh My!

    We’re off to see the Wizard….
    Pay no attention to the little con men behind the curtain of ‘Climate Change’!

    • If only the humpbacks could include in their diet…. Oh, never mind!

      Sorry, that was just mean of me, I know, but there is krill available in locations other than (in this case) Antarctica. Such a narrow viewpoint as Mr. Morley’s needs to be exposed to the light of day. I’m not sure that he really knows much about whales, in this instance.

  2. Whatever happened to the large amount of ice that was increasing around Antarctica? And how do they square that with periods that were warmer than now?

      • ghalfrunt, your link opens the ARCTIC sea ice page where there is a decrease, but switching to ANTARCTIC shows that sea ice has been at its highest levels in recent years. In addition NASA has reported an overall increase in Antarctic ice on land and a decline in temperatures in the main part of Antarctica so claims of possible future devastation to marine species due to warming and loss of ice is a bit far fetched.

        • I guess you must have your special WUWT glasses on; They can turn increasing temperatures into decreasing ones, and ice loss into ice gain. It’s just a mystery that this site isn’t taken more seriously.
          Cheers

    • “Whatever happened to the large amount of ice that was increasing around Antarctica?”

      It doesn’t conform to the narrative, so it’s considered an inconsequential anomaly.

  3. I thought that the reason Penguines went onto the ice to breed was to be far away from danger. We also find them on slightly warmer islands, as long as they can move away from the shore line.

    The reason whales go so far South is that the fish are down there. They seem quite happy to come to much warmer places like Australia to breed.

    Me thinks the mention of West Antarctica, a volcanic area is to again make things seem worse than even they thought, give us another grant please.

  4. “The next step is to assign weights to the factors and predicted impacts. For example, temperature is a factor that has major effects on cold-blooded marine animals, but will it be more of a problem than the benefit from loss of sea ice? It is very difficult to know until we have more data.”
    Please send more funding now and increase our grants so that we can give you the answer.

    • The next step is to dial in as many guesses as needed to come to our pre-conceived conclusion.

      Environmentalists’ modelling handbook chapter 1

    • Apparently you don’t understand the meaning of UNPRECEDENTED!!

      It means that it hasn’t happened during my lifetime, while I was paying attention.

      • “UNPRECEDENTED!! It means that it hasn’t happened during my lifetime, while I was paying attention.”

        Excellent translation of English into journalistspeak!

  5. “As more information becomes available, the researchers hope to improve their predictions.”
    Their predictions are a crap shoot.

    • Worse than that they are dealing in time frames in which evolution will work and total ignoring it. The underlying assumption is there is no such thing as evolution and every species stays exactly as is.

  6. we used information on the expected impacts of climate change on each animal,” explains seabird ecologist Mike Dunn, co-author of this study, which forms part of a special article collection on aquatic habitat ecology and conservation. “We assessed many different animal types to give an objective view of how biodiversity might fare under unprecedented change.”

    Their first mistake leads them down that infamous Road Paved with Good Intentions.

  7. “Unprecedented change” like that which has happened many times before? And what, it’s going to go from -40 to -38?

    • Yeah, but what if it goes from -40 to -25? Huh? Then what, pal? If it warms 15 degrees, then you deniers will all be sorry. Or 25 degrees! What if the ice temperature goes up to -15? Think of how much ice will melt then. Think of The Children! The Poor will suffer most.

      • That reminds me of the sixth grader in Boulder, Colorado that wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. He said that he had seen the impacts of global warming first hand, which I seem to recall had something to do which water not flowing in a nearby irrigation ditch. He could be a future Nobel Laureate.

  8. So now we are working with periods of tens to hundreds of thousands of years and CAGW and think we can say anything with certainty. Perhaps we should bring out the ouija board or read tea leaves and make predictions as well and call it science.

  9. They appear to be predicting a glacial maxima for the next century. How does that tie in with global warming?

  10. There are about 20 penguin species (it depends a bit on which you regard as species and subspecies). All of the live in cool to cold waters (even the Galapagos penguin, which actually breeds just north of the Equator). However only two (Adelie and Emperor) are exclusively high arctic species and only the Emperor breeds mostly on sea-ice (and then on fast ice, i e permanent sea-ice). It is however not strictly tied to sea-ice, at least four colonies are known that breed on shelf-ice, and one that breeds on land.

    All other species breed on land, exclusively or mostly (I add “mostly” because I once saw a Jackass Penguin colony on a stranded iceberg, though I am not sure if they were actually breeding there, it was rather early in the season).

  11. “The team are unsure how the creatures got there, but one theory is that they inhabited ponds and streams in the Transantarctic Mountains 50km away during brief warm periods, which occurred in the past 10,000 years or 120,000 years ago, and somwhow were transported to Mercer Lake.

    However, when the climate cooled, the animals were left trapped in an icy grave.”

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-6608149/Scientists-animal-carcasses-Antarctic-lake-buried-3-500-feet-ice.html

  12. I am not sure that WUWT is wise giving digit time to this EurekAlert Site, unless a strong warning is given upon its subversive agenda.
    The subversive techniques go back to the activities of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) set up by Churchill in WW2, whereby part of its activities involved the broadcasting of subtle misinformation to the enemy laced with good facts, gleaned from news items in a form with gave credence to the lies, fears and message involved.
    It was a remarkably successful strategy in many incidences.
    It is my view that EurekAlert fits this pattern and agenda and due warning should be given.

    Meanwhile all that happens is that we WUWT commentators just get het up with obvious and often irrelevant comments. The danger, of course, is that others not so canny absorb the implied message and the Meme is enhanced amid the confusion.

    So I ask: Can we have a CLEAR warning given if we are to be given access to this disreputable site?

  13. Penguins, starfish, whales: Which animals will win and lose in a warming Antarctic?

    It’s hard to say:

    A colony of about 40,000 Adélie penguins in Antarctica has suffered a “catastrophic breeding event” – all but two chicks have died of starvation this year. It is the second time in just four years that such devastation – not previously seen in more than 50 years of observation – has been wrought on the population.

    The finding has prompted urgent calls for the establishment of a marine protected area in East Antarcticahttps://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/12/penguin-catastrophe-leads-to-demands-for-protection-in-east-antarctica

    And then…

    Huge “mega-colonies” of penguins have been discovered near the Antarctic peninsula, hosting more than 1.5 million birds. Researchers say it shows the area is a vital refuge from climate change and human activities and should be protected by a vast new marine wildlife reserve currently under consideration.

    The huge numbers of Adélie penguins were found on the Danger Islands in the Weddell Seahttps://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/02/mega-colonies-of-15-million-penguins-discovered-in-antarctica

    They were obviously attempting to escape from the environmentalists.

  14. About krill and penguins
    “…and it is possible that the abundance of their fish prey will increase in open water, but this is currently unknown.”
    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2018.00507/full

    While the job of the scientist is to predict and not decide what is good or bad, hypotheticals should not be the basis of policy. With complex ecosystems (a theoretical term itself) there are usually ups and downs of any changes of concern. Too often predictions are inadequate or just wrong, in my experience because of the too short data base and inadequate understanding of causation.

    From “Fleet behavior is responsive to a large-scale environmental disturbance: Hypoxia effects on the spatial dynamics of the northern Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery”
    https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0183032
    https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183032 Open access

    “Currently, it is not clear whether the effects of low bottom DO on the spatial dynamics of the shrimp fleet are a net cost or a net benefit to the fishery.” While this is from warmer climes, the prediction of lack of doom about the Louisiana “dead zone” was heard from shrimpers decades ago. It took the accepted marine biologists longer, not so much the skeptics who thought that the shrimpers might just know what is going on.

  15. The main beneficiaries of a warming Antarctic will be the climate scientists whose ships keep getting stuck in the sea ice.

  16. The correct answer to the question of which species benefit and which lose, is (d), “None of the above.” In all the hundreds of millennia of earth’s inhabited existence the climate has changed several times, the ice has waxed and waned, the water has warmed and cooled and…guess what…life adapts. Otherwise there would be no whales, no poley bears, and no penguins…I thought you “fact based” climate worriers believed in the lord Darwin…

    GMAF’nB

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