Plankton Species Have Ability to Survive Climate Change: Research

by Hannah Punitha on Sep 25 2008 5:18 PM

Scientists from the Queen's University in Australia has found that a plankton species, which is the main source of food for many fish in the North Atlantic, appears to have the ability to adapt in order to survive climate change.

Billions of Calanus finmarchicus, the plankton species in question, which are just a few millimetres in size, live in the waters of the North Atlantic where the research was carried out.

The research showed that the animal responded to global warming after the last Ice Age, around 18,000 years ago, by moving north and maintaining large population sizes and also suggests that these animals might be able to track the current change in habitat.

One of the main predicted effects of climate change is a forced shift in species' distribution range.

The study leader, Dr Jim Provan, from Queen's School of Biological Sciences, said the discovery that that a species has a feature which helps it cope with global warming is a rare example of good news.

"Our results, in contrast to previous studies, suggest that the species has been able to shift its distribution range in response to previous changes in the Earth's climate, and thus 'track' the effects of climate change, a feature which may be of crucial importance in its survival," he said.

"The genetic variability of the species - the tendency of the genetic make-up of a population to vary from one individual to another - has remained high, which is good news, and suggests that these animals might be able to track the current change in habitat resulting from global warming and maintain viable population sizes," he added.

According to Provan, "If the species couldn't, it might become extinct and thus threaten the fish species that depend upon it for food."

"It might be a rare example of news that may not be doom-and-gloom with respect to climate change, but it doesn't mean that we don't have to keep watching what happens," he added.

As a result of the Queen's findings, the team is planning further work to see how the study applies to rapid global warming over the last few decades.