A study developed by Andrea Piñones, investigator for the IDEAL CENTER, reveals that the Antarctic krill´s habitat could decrease up to 80%, by the end of the century, causing a decline in this organism that could affect all of the marine food chain.

The Antarctic krill (Euphasia superba) is a small crustacean, key to the food chain in Antarctica, that could lose a great part of its habitat by the year 2100. That was the conclusion of a study published in Geophysical Research Letters, developed by Andrea Piñones, researcher at the Research Center Dynamics of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) and the Center for Advanced Studies in Arid Zones (CEAZA), along with Alexey Fedorov, researcher from Yale University.

krill2The scientists combined climate simulations according to projections given by the international climate change panel, with the krill´s growth model, observing that an increase in water temperature and sea ice melting, could reduce its habitat up to 80% by the end of the century.

¨The population of adult krill has declined by 80 to 90 percent since the 1970´s. Today there is a scientific debate regarding what is causing this decline, from changes in the environment to an increase in the population of whales, “explains Andrea Piñones, a researcher at CEAZA and the IDEAL Center at the University Austral of Chile.

Climate models predict that by the time the oceans take in more heat from the ¨greenhouse effect¨, the Circumpolar Deep Water current will warm from 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, while some surface waters around Antarctica are projected to increase their temperature by as much as 2 degrees Celsius. According to the new study, slightly warmer water means that krill eggs will develop faster, will not submerge so deep under the surface and will hatch sooner. However, the larvae of krill have an optimum development up to 2 degrees Celsius, says Piñones.

Key Link

The Antarctic krill is an crustacean, that, as an adult, can measure between 6 and 7 centimeters long, similar to a shrimp, which is a source of food, essential to whales, penguins, seals, squids and fish, among other sea organisms. Its fishing began in the 70’s, to be used as food in aquariums, fishhooks, pharmaceuticals and some food products.

According to the specialist, the loss of krill may have a cascade effect on the entire marine food chain of sea mammals and birds, which depend on the crustacean as their main source of food.

“Almost everything you can think about Antarctica depends on Antarctic krill,” confirms biological oceanographer Kendra Daly of the University of South Florida in Tampa.