Washington, Oct 26 (IANS) Warmer oceans could significantly hit the population of phytoplankton, micro-organisms that soak up carbon, says a study.
Phytoplankton flourish in every ocean, consuming as much carbon dioxide through photosynthesis as all the terrestrial plants combined.
“In the tropical oceans, we are predicting a 40 percent drop in potential diversity,” said Mridul Thomas, Michigan State University graduate student and study co-author, the journal Science Express reported.
“If the oceans continue to warm as predicted, there will be a sharp decline in the diversity of phytoplankton in tropical waters and a pole ward shift in species’ thermal niches, if they don’t adapt to climate change,” Thomas was quoted as saying.
The team explained that since phytoplankton play a key role in regulating atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and thus, global climate, this shift could cause significant change.
Thomas co-authored the study with fellow graduate student Colin Kremer and their faculty mentors Elena Litchman, zoologist, and Christopher Klausmeier, plant biologist, all at Michigan.
Water temperatures strongly influence phytoplankton growth rates. In fact, phytoplankton in warmer equatorial waters can grow much faster than their cold-water cousins.
With worldwide temperatures predicted to increase over the next century, it’s important to gauge phytoplankton’s reaction and what will happen to the carbon that they currently carry to the ocean floor.