Warming waters take their toll on Antarctic shellfish

January 29, 2013 by Tom Marshall
Warming waters take their toll on Antarctic shellfish
Lissarca miliaris.

Shells that spent decades sitting ignored in a Welsh museum have shown scientists that climate change is seriously harming ecosystems around Antarctica.

The researchers found that members of one are being assailed by algae, forcing them to put more energy into repairing their and reducing the resources available for reproduction.

Their paper also highlights the need for long-term studies so we have a realistic baseline against which to measure changes. Otherwise, researchers risk falling into the trap of 'shifting baselines', in which they all measure change against whatever the situation happened to be when they started their career.

Adam Reed of the University of Southampton and National Oceanography Centre has been working on the bivalve species Lissarca miliaris for his PhD, looking at their ecology and response to a warming climate - have heated up by an average of 0.56°C per decade since 1950, and many are showing the strain.

He already had access to shells collected in 2002 by researchers at the 's Signy Research Station, and asked them to get more of the tiny bivalves. When they obliged, there seemed to be significant differences between the two.

But without much older samples, it was hard to know if this part of a long-term trend or just a temporary fluctuation. One paper published in 1979 included some data on L.miliaris shells that had been collected in 1972, but the samples themselves had long been lost and there was nothing between then and 2002.

Warming waters take their toll on Antarctic shellfish
Lissarca miliaris.

So he contacted museums all over the UK in search of earlier . Only one could help - the National Museum of Wales, which turned out to have around 200 shells that had been collected around Signy in 1976 and somehow ended up in storage in Cardiff.

By analysing each shell's , researchers can deduce many properties of the water it formed in. Reed says that L.miliaris is a particularly good climate record, since it is relatively short-lived, rarely making it beyond seven years.

Researchers have looked at bigger, longer-lived species before, but because their shells are formed over a much longer period - sometimes as much as 70 years - they don't provide a detailed picture of short-term changes.

One striking feature of modern shells compared to old ones is that they are thicker but less sturdy. Reed says that that the shellfish are now constantly covered with an algal film, and that this seems to be dissolving their shells.

The animals respond with hasty regrowth, leaving their shells thicker than they started out. But this so-called 'secondary calcification' is nowhere near as good as the original shell - under an electron microscope, it's clearly much more brittle and porous. So the bivalves are spending a lot of energy on repairs, but ending up worse off than they started.

'We think the algae were probably always there, but may have been killed off during cold winters,' Reed says. 'The warmer conditions in the last decade may mean this doesn't happen any more.' It's not yet certain how this is affecting the shellfish as a whole, but the effects are unlikely to be positive. Studies of populations over time are needed to find out for sure, but already the average size of L.miliaris larvae is dropping.

The idea of shifting baselines isn't new; it's a recognised problem in fisheries science. In that field, scientists realised in the 1990s that it was impossible to measure long-term changes objectively without a commonly-agreed baseline to start from. But this is the first hard evidence linking the concept to the effects of on Antarctic .

'Where do we measure change from?' Reed asks. ' Here we have gone back 40 years, but we don't really know if that's enough - we'd like to go back even further if we could find older shells. But this is the problem with Antarctica - we just haven't been sampling it for very long.'

Warming waters take their toll on Antarctic shellfish
Lissarca miliaris.

He suggests that researchers need to be open-minded about finding new ways of learning about the history of the climate. 'People need to look more creatively at how we can use what data we do have,' he explains. 'This will probably involve more collaboration, working with museums and other collections.'

He's now looking at extending the research to other places in Antarctica, like South Georgia. In the meantime, if any readers happen to have a cache of old Lissarca miliaris shells sitting around, he'd be delighted to hear from you.

The paper appears in PLoS ONE.

Explore further: Research team finds mollusk changes gender as it ages

More information: Reed AJ, Thatje S, Linse K (2012) Shifting Baselines in Antarctic Ecosystems; Ecophysiological Response to Warming in Lissarca miliaris at Signy Island, Antarctica. PLoS ONE 7(12): e53477. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053477

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2 / 5 (20) Jan 29, 2013
This press release is terribly dishonest in referring to "Antarctica" when in fact the study is of the tiny Antarctic Peninsula that shows an opposite temperature trend to the bulk of the continent and thus cannot in fact be warming due to the greenhouse effect given that it represents a mere hot spot in an otherwise cooling area of the planet.
3.6 / 5 (14) Jan 29, 2013
This press release is terribly dishonest in referring to "Antarctica" when in fact the study is of the tiny Antarctic Peninsula that shows an opposite temperature trend to the bulk of the continent

No what is dishonest is taking a study of ocean temperature and comparing it to temperatures over land.
2 / 5 (21) Jan 29, 2013
A hot spot is a hot spot, and pointing this out to lay readers is not dishonest. The whole Southern ocean is cooling yet the Peninsula lights up bright red on trend maps. That is logically incompatible with claims that the seas around Antarctica are suffering from greenhouse warming like computer models demand they do.
3.8 / 5 (13) Jan 29, 2013
I call bs. Put your money up Nik. Show a study that says the southern ocean is cooling.
3.9 / 5 (15) Jan 29, 2013
Yes. There is a minor cooling trend in the interior of the largest region of the Antarctic continent.

This regional cooling is predicted by the climate models, and the models also predict that the cooling will become warming soon enough.

"the tiny Antarctic Peninsula that shows an opposite temperature trend to the bulk of the continent" - Nikkie

Nikkie is upset that the article does not mention that aquatic muscles do not grow well in the freezing temperatures of the Antarctic interior.

Most people who have graduated from grade 1, manage to figure such things out for themselves.
3.4 / 5 (14) Jan 29, 2013
Southern Ocean is warming, dramatically, that is why the ice sheets are collapsing around most of the continent.
3.9 / 5 (14) Jan 29, 2013
And now we have a lie...

"The whole Southern ocean is cooling" - Nikkie


Nikkie needs to learn that Rush Limbaugh and Faux News are in the business of lying for profit.
4.6 / 5 (9) Jan 29, 2013
Southern Ocean is warming, dramatically, that is why the ice sheets are collapsing around most of the continent.

Actually, as a firm believer in climate change, please accept a minor correction. While its true that many of the seas around the Antarctic are warming, particularly around West Antarctica, and that is causing a lot of increased glacial calving, other seas (around east Antarctica) either don't show the same degree of warming or have extremely scanty evidence to back up your flat statement.

We are still quite early in the process of changing the climate of the earth we live on, and many of these processes are just beginning to be felt.
1.5 / 5 (17) Jan 29, 2013
The 'Coward Herr Vendicar' has childishly changed his personal login profile, slightly to avoid people following his name back through past comments..... Anyone interested in his cowardly death threats towards posters in the past comments section, follow them through the link below. http://phys.org/p...ndicarD/
1.3 / 5 (15) Jan 29, 2013
keep hiding Scott. one less sockpuppet for you
3.4 / 5 (10) Jan 29, 2013
FullDiaper and JohnnyCab need a shave.

If they won't do it for themselves, then the coming National Razor will do it for them.

Have your freedom lists ready people.
1 / 5 (15) Jan 29, 2013
Link fixed....just check out the 'Green Murder Porn' this guy wanks to....

1.2 / 5 (13) Jan 30, 2013
And now we have a lie...

"The whole Southern ocean is cooling" - Nikkie

4.3 / 5 (6) Jan 30, 2013

That's a really nice graphic there skippy. Now how about you spend a little time to explain what you think it shows?

You might also want to discuss why you've used a graphic whose data sets do not include most of the southern ocean (which I assume is the area that you are trying to show)and why you've settled on a graphic that ends in 2003.

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