No bones about it: As oceans have grown more acidic from global warming over the past decade, they've been eating away at the skeletons grown by a certain strain of alga – likely demonstrating how climate change affects organisms and biodiversity, a new study says.
Researchers working at Tatoosh Island in the Pacific Ocean off Washington state found that the alga – called P. muricatum – was growing its skeleton at a far slower rate than normal – so slow, in fact, that its skeleton was half as thick as it was in the 1980s.
"As the ocean absorbs more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the water becomes more acidic," the research team said in a statement. Certain "algae and shellfish have difficulty producing their skeletons and shells in such an environment, and can provide an early indicator of how increasing ocean acidification affects marine life."
Once dominant thanks to that hard exterior, P. muricatum is now no longer the algaeic king of the sea. In fact, no one alga is dominant anymore in the waters around Tatoosh, researchers said, creating a new "rock, paper, scissors dynamic" – one "suggesting that increased ocean acidification caused by global climate change is altering biodiversity."
The study – funded by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation, the Phycological Society of America, the Geological Society of America and the University of Chicago – appeared in the journal Ecology Letters on Wednesday.