Researchers from Queen's University, Belfast, UK have discovered that Calanus finmarchicus responded to global warming after the last Ice Age. Experts believe an outcome of climate change is a forced shift in the distribution range of the species. The plankton moved north and has succeeded in maintaining large population sizes. The new finding is significant because it provides evidence that the species has a feature that helps it cope with global warming.
'Our results in contrast to previous studies, suggest that the species has been able to shift its distribution range in response to previous changes in the Earth's climate, and thus 'track' the effects of climate change, a feature which may be of crucial importance in its survival,' explained Dr Jim Provan from Queen's School of Biological Sciences.
'The genetic variability of the species — the tendency of the genetic make-up of a population to vary from one individual to another — has remained high, which is good news, and suggests that these animals might be able to track the current change in habitat resulting from global warming and maintain viable populations sizes.'
Dr Provan went on to say that failure of the species to track the change would have a huge adverse impact on its survival. 'It might become extinct and thus threaten the fish species that depend upon it for food,' the researcher said.
He stated that while no one should jump to conclusions as regards the effects of climate change on marine resources, it is better to be vigilant as to what can happen.
Past studies on the Calanus finmarchicus have shown that the number of the species and the size of the population have dropped significantly. 'Decreases in genetic variability' may be the culprit, he said. Such variability may play havoc with the adaptive potential of the populations in future. The researchers of this study believe this could trigger the extinction of species.
Experts have said the species is believed to be one of the most important components of the regional marine food web. The team will continue their work to investigate how the results of the study apply to rapid global warming over the last few decades.