Saltwater creatures that contribute to the ocean’s food supply appear to dissolve more quickly than once thought in the increasingly warm and acidic condition off the Northern California coast, University of California, Davis, researchers have found.
Bryozoans, considered a canary in the coal mine for magnesium-abundant marine animals with calcareous skeletons, thrive in California kelp forests. Researchers at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory have found, however, that they dissolve at a much faster rate than expected when cultured in warm waters and exposed to acidity. The bryozoans dissolved completely in as little as two months, surprising scientists who expected the creatures only to shrink in mass or size during the experiment, according to the research published earlier this month.
The findings deepen concerns over the effects of climate change on oceans and sea life, said lead author Daniel Swezey, a graduate researcher at the laboratory.
“This is detrimental for the ecosystem because a lot of animals that are important to the food chain make high-magnesium skeletons, and we are worried about the effects across these groups,” Swezey said.
Bryozoans incorporated more magnesium into their skeletons in warm waters, the researchers found, which made them more vulnerable to dissolving when waters turned more acidic.
According to Marilou Seiff, executive director of the nonprofit educational Marine Science Institute, the UC Davis discovery is a warning sign for many marine animals, especially those that feed on bryozoans and similar species such as sea stars and calcifying algae.
“If you are a coastal animal, these situations can be deadly to you,” Seiff said. “Fewer fish will lead to fewer marine animals. There’s just less food out there.”