Study shows how sea otters can reduce CO2 in the atmosphere

Sep 07, 2012 by Guy Lasnier
Sea otters convene in a kelp bed near Kodiak Island, Alaska. A new UC Santa Cruz study shows how an abundance of otters can control sea urchins, helping kelp to thrive and thus absorb greater amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. Credit: Arthur Morris

(Phys.org)—Can an abundance of sea otters help reverse a principal cause of global warming?

A new study by two UC Santa Cruz researchers suggest that a thriving sea otter population that keeps sea urchins in check will in turn allow kelp forests to prosper. The spreading kelp can absorb as much as 12 times the amount of CO2 from the atmosphere than if it were subject to ravenous sea urchins, the study finds.

The theory is outlined in a paper released online today (September 7, 2012) in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment by lead authors UC Santa Cruz professors Chris Wilmers and James Estes.

"It is significant because it shows that animals can have a big influence on the carbon cycle," said Wilmers, assistant professor of environmental studies.

Wilmers, Estes, a professor of ecology and , and their co-authors, combined 40 years of data on otters and kelp bloom from to the western edge of Alaska's . They found that otters "undoubtedly have a strong influence" on the cycle of CO2 storage.

Comparing kelp density with otters and kelp density without otters, they found that " have a positive indirect effect on kelp biomass by preying on sea urchins, a kelp grazer." When otters are around, sea urchins hide in crevices and eat kelp scraps. With no otters around, graze voraciously on living kelp.

Kelp is particularly efficient at sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has increased 40 percent since the beginning of the industrial revolution, causing to rise, the authors write.

Wilmers and Estes acknowledge that a spreading otter population won't solve the problem of higher CO2 in the atmosphere but argue that the restoration and protection of otters is an example how managing can affect ecosystems abilities to sequester carbon.

"Right now, all the models and proposed methods of sequestering carbon ignore animals," Wilmers said. "But animals the world over, working in different ways to influence the , might actually have a large impact.

"If ecologists can get a better handle on what these impacts are, there might be opportunities for win-win conservation scenarios, whereby animal species are protected or enhanced, and carbon gets sequestered," he said.

Mitigating increased CO2 in the atmosphere is a pressing issue in global environmental conservation with many obstacles and no easy solutions, the authors write. They note that markets have been established in Europe and the United States to trade carbon credits and thus inject an economic incentive into either reducing CO2 output or increasing CO2 sequestration.

They estimate that the CO2 removed from the atmosphere via the otter-kelp link could be worth between $205 million and $408 million on the European Carbon Exchange. "An alluring idea," they write, would be to sell the carbon indirectly sequestered by the sea otter protected kelp forest "as a way to pay for their reintroduction and management or to compensate losses to shell fisheries from sea otter predation."

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More information: www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/110176

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User comments : 25

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david_king
2.9 / 5 (17) Sep 07, 2012
I can hear skeptics thinking aloud, "More scientists looking for taxpayer handouts."
NotParker
1.4 / 5 (19) Sep 07, 2012
April Fools joke?
CapitalismPrevails
1.4 / 5 (21) Sep 07, 2012
Study shows how sea otters can reduce CO2 in the atmosphere

Who cares?
djr
4.1 / 5 (14) Sep 07, 2012
"Who cares?" You see Capitalism - there is this thing called science. Biologists study ecosystems - many of them spend their whole lives studying the complex relationships between various organisms within one particular ecosystem - all in the name of increasing our knowledge of the universe we live in.
NotParker
1.6 / 5 (21) Sep 07, 2012
"Who cares?" You see Capitalism - there is this thing called science. Biologists study ecosystems - many of them spend their whole lives studying the complex relationships between various organisms within one particular ecosystem - all in the name of increasing our knowledge of the universe we live in.


And they hate "ravenous sea urchins" who "graze voraciously on living kelp" because they aren't as cute as sea otters.

Wow. Sure a lot of loaded bigotry against sea urchins in this "article".

And the plan to kill off sea urchins is funded by capitalists trading carbon credits.
Howhot
5 / 5 (4) Sep 07, 2012
Man, it's like a Japanese anime; way cute animals saving the world!
Frantic Truth
3.2 / 5 (20) Sep 07, 2012
NotParker and Capitalism, Why do you bother posting on PhysOrg when you clearly have no care or understanding for any kind of science or even reasoning? Take your nonsense elsewhere. Anyone with a functioning brain would not be shocked or confused by this article.
NotParker
1.6 / 5 (21) Sep 07, 2012
NotParker and Capitalism, Why do you bother posting on PhysOrg when you clearly have no care or understanding for any kind of science or even reasoning? Take your nonsense elsewhere. Anyone with a functioning brain would not be shocked or confused by this article.


I was laughing like you wouldn't believe at statements like:

"sea urchins graze voraciously on living kelp"

Have you ever seen any article about cows where they say "the evil cow grazed voraciously on living grass"?

And even funning was "dir" talking about noble scientists ... clearly he hadn't read to the bottom of the story where they plan to make money off of fraudsters trading carbon credits in Europe.

Hilariously stupid.
VendicarD
3.4 / 5 (10) Sep 07, 2012
I agree with NotParker. Republican free market capitalism has been an unmitigated disaster for Americans.
VendicarD
3.7 / 5 (10) Sep 07, 2012
Yes I have actually.

"Have you ever seen any article about cows where they say "the evil cow grazed voraciously on living grass"?" - ParkerTard

Aren't such things said on your home planet of Conservadopia?
Irukanji
1 / 5 (10) Sep 08, 2012
Less Sea Urchins, more otters kelp. Harvest the kelp to make biogas and harvest the otters for meat and fur.
VendicarD
3.7 / 5 (9) Sep 08, 2012
"April Fools joke?" - ParkerTard

Were you born on April 1?
alfie_null
3.3 / 5 (7) Sep 08, 2012
And even funning was "dir" talking about noble scientists ... clearly he hadn't read to the bottom of the story where they plan to make money off of fraudsters trading carbon credits in Europe.

I was struck by an odd notion, this apparent dichotomy in the view of some right wing, pro-capitalist contributors to these physorg forums.

In their view, I'd guess, it's all right for anyone in any non-science sector to completely abandon morals and ethics, to take the most egregiously amoral actions in order to acquire wealth. It's entirely up to the folks who give them money to ensure they aren't being cheated.

But, woe be to any scientist who tries the same tactic. (only for the sake of argument, I'm assuming scientists have no morals and are primarily driven by the desire to accumulate wealth; I do understand this isn't the case in the real world)
VendicarD
3.5 / 5 (8) Sep 08, 2012
NeoConservatives have a long history of accusing others for the crimes that they, themselves have committed.

Note how they blame Democrats for the U.S. deficit even though the NeoConservatives created virtually all of it.

Libertarian vermin are even worse when it comes to this kind of filthy hypocrisy.
CSYGUY
5 / 5 (2) Sep 08, 2012
If there are no sea urchins what else will the Sea Otter eat? Do not these sea otter's move about freely. I know we have Otter's on the east coast. They move around all the time because they will quickly deplete an area of the available food. They are incredible predators.

What is next - birds eat insects that eat grass. I would like $250M to breed and release more wild birds? Or let's skip a step - I would like $250M for putting out insecticide.

This type of bioengineering usually does not work out well.

djr
3.9 / 5 (11) Sep 08, 2012
NotParker and Capitalism, Why do you bother posting on PhysOrg when you clearly have no care or understanding for any kind of science or even reasoning?

I refuse to debate Parker any more. Have you read about the Dunning-Kruger effect? http://en.wikiped...r_effect

This is Parker in a nutshell. Parker is an expert on multiple lines of complex scientific research - and truly believes in his/her intellectual superiority - over and above many thousands of research scientists. On a recent thread he/she made multiple false statements about sea level rise - all of these lies were pointed out by multiple posters - and who is the first name to appear on the comments of the next article mentioning the climate - you guessed it - Dunning-Kruger effect Parker.....
NotParker
1.2 / 5 (17) Sep 08, 2012
NotParker and Capitalism, Why do you bother posting on PhysOrg when you clearly have no care or understanding for any kind of science or even reasoning?

I refuse to debate Parker any more.


You keep promising that ...

But back to biologists taking sides to make hundreds of millions of dollar to meddle with nature.

Are they supposed to take sides and help sea otters kill off sea urchins?

jonnyboy
1.5 / 5 (16) Sep 08, 2012
"April Fools joke?" - ParkerTard

Were you born on April 1?

I can't believe they have not run you out of here Scott. Your continual ridicule is the most childish behavior.
Caliban
3.9 / 5 (7) Sep 08, 2012
"Who cares?" You see Capitalism - there is this thing called science. Biologists study ecosystems - many of them spend their whole lives studying the complex relationships between various organisms within one particular ecosystem - all in the name of increasing our knowledge of the universe we live in.


And they hate "ravenous sea urchins" who "graze voraciously on living kelp" because they aren't as cute as sea otters.

Wow. Sure a lot of loaded bigotry against sea urchins in this "article".


A simple description of the urchin's feeding habits is not "hate" or "loaded bigotry", anymore than a factual description of the feeding habits of piranha would be.

The hate and loaded bigotry are all in your "head", NutPecker.

Caliban
3 / 5 (6) Sep 08, 2012

But back to biologists taking sides to make hundreds of millions of dollar to meddle with nature.

Are they supposed to take sides and help sea otters kill off sea urchins?


I used to think that it wasn't possible that NutPecker could be so stupid, but, over time, I've had no other choice than to conclude that it must be so....

Here we find the Pecker conflating the idea of creating a financial incentive for (primarily) the fishing industry to help(or, at least, not hinder) efforts to reintroduce Sea otters to their historic coastal ranges, where their predation provided a natural, mutually balancing check upon the population of urchins(among others) --with a PLANNED SEA URCHIN GENOCIDE, funded by fraudulent freimarket carbon-trading scams, masterminded by a bunch of touchy-feely, cute-otter-loving, anthropomorphising bioscientists, who just hates-them-some-nasty-little-sea-urchins.

Do us a favor, NutPecker --go look up the definition of "Jackass".

If the shoe fits you...
NotParker
1.3 / 5 (16) Sep 08, 2012
"Who cares?" You see Capitalism - there is this thing called science. Biologists study ecosystems - many of them spend their whole lives studying the complex relationships between various organisms within one particular ecosystem - all in the name of increasing our knowledge of the universe we live in.


And they hate "ravenous sea urchins" who "graze voraciously on living kelp" because they aren't as cute as sea otters.

Wow. Sure a lot of loaded bigotry against sea urchins in this "article".


A simple description of the urchin's feeding habits


Simple?

"graze voraciously on living kelp" is simple? Nonsense. It is one sided

"Sea Urchins eat kelp" is simple.

How about "Sea Otters smash helpless sea urchins on their chest with stones and eat the insides of live sea urchins as they scream helplessly".

The greed and hate unleashed by carbon trading is sickening!

NotParker
1.3 / 5 (16) Sep 08, 2012

Do us a favor, NutPecker --go look up the definition of "Jackass".



I did. It has your picture. You are standing in a crowd of foul-mouthed idiots.

Did you know that Sea Otters are slaughterers of sea life?

"Sea otters feed on over 60 species of kelp forest invertebrates, consuming in excess of 5,000 pounds of crab, snails, sea stars, urchins, per year per otter."

Evil little buggers.
Caliban
3.4 / 5 (5) Sep 08, 2012

Do us a favor, NutPecker --go look up the definition of "Jackass".



I did. It has your picture. You are standing in a crowd of foul-mouthed idiots.

Did you know that Sea Otters are slaughterers of sea life?

"Sea otters feed on over 60 species of kelp forest invertebrates, consuming in excess of 5,000 pounds of crab, snails, sea stars, urchins, per year per otter."

Evil little buggers.


And one of those "foul-mouthed idiots" was you, NutPecker, wearing a shiny new pair of jackass shoes!

And, as far as your anthropomorphization of the natural world, just what exactly, do you expect those cold-hearted, vicious, carnivorous, evil sea otters to eat? Yogurt?

Maybe we could start a carbon trading scheme to finance their new yogurt diet!

Seriously, though --I vote that we feed them a diet of NutPecker, thereby ridding ourselves of one evil, and preserving the lives of millions of sweet, innocent little sea urchins at the same time!

NotParker
1.3 / 5 (14) Sep 09, 2012

Do us a favor, NutPecker --go look up the definition of "Jackass".



I did. It has your picture. You are standing in a crowd of foul-mouthed insecure cultists.

Dr Paul Bain is an AGW Cult Psychologist who does research on dehumanizing language and prefers the term deniers when discussing anyone who disagrees with his cults insane tenets.

Bain observed that a primary function of dehumanizing language is to reinforce the self-esteem of the "in group".

Stephan Lewandosky is another AGW cult leader (along with fraudster Peter Gleick) who prefers dehumanizing their opponents to actual science.

http://climateaud...sky-scam
Caliban
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 10, 2012

Do us a favor, NutPecker --go look up the definition of "Jackass".



I did. It has your picture. You are standing in a crowd of foul-mouthed insecure cultists.

Dr Paul Bain is an AGW Cult Psychologist who does research on dehumanizing language and prefers the term deniers when discussing anyone who disagrees with his cults insane tenets.

Bain observed that a primary function of dehumanizing language is to reinforce the self-esteem of the "in group".

Stephan Lewandosky is another AGW cult leader (along with fraudster Peter Gleick) who prefers dehumanizing their opponents to actual science.

http://climateaud...sky-scam


Uh huh.

Here's a quote for you, NutPecker, from former president Harry S. Truman: "If you can't stand the heat --get out of the kitchen."

If you want respect from your peers here, then you're going to have to earn it.

And lies, cherry-pecking and misdirection aren't adding to your overdrawn earned-respect account.