Scientists have warned that the shell-crushing king crabs could invade the Antarctic and alter its delicate marine ecosystem, all thanks to global warming. The Antarctic coastline has a unique ecosystem that has been in place for tens of millions of years. According to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the soft-bodied filter feeding organisms in the Antarctica will have to face the might of king crabs in just a few decades.
Delicate Antarctic organisms are susceptible to king crabs
Professor Richard Aronson of the Florida Institute of Technology said if the king crabs moved in, they could “radically restructure” the ecosystem. The crabs are known for breaking open the outer shells of animals like urchins and starfish. But creatures on the continental shelf have evolved without any shell-crushing predators, making them susceptible to king crabs.
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Due to climate change, temperatures are rising off the coast of Antarctica. It is slowly making conditions suitable for an invasion of shell-crushing crabs on the continental shelf off the western Antarctic peninsula. King crabs feed on soft-bodied organisms on the shelf. They mostly live on the bottom of the ocean in deep waters. Temperatures in the Antarctic region were too cold for them.
Temperatures in the region within livable range of king crabs
Over the past few years, researchers have observed these crabs in the waters off the western Antarctic peninsula. Temperatures are still pretty cold there, but are now within livable range for the crabs. Scientists used an underwater camera sled to find out the population size of crabs off the Marguerite Bay. Notably, that location is just a few hundred meters deeper than the continental shelf where delicate marine organisms flourish.
Aronson said there was a large population consisting of thousands of king crabs of species Paralomis birsteini. The study revealed that their population was steady and reproducing. Dr James McClintock of the University of Alabama said the only way to know if the crabs are expanding their depth-range is to track them through long-term monitoring.