Due to rapidly rising temperatures, the conditions are ripe for the invasion of king crabs on the Antarctic region.
Antarctica's coastline is a home to delicate invertebrates like sea stars and marine worms but, it will become a breeding ground for predators like king crab in the future, a new study predicts.
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It will happen due to global climate change. The shore of Antarctica has not seen the likes of shell-crushing crabs for millions of years. The Antarctic cold temperature kept them away from the region but now when water surrounding Antarctica is heating up, there is no barrier left for king crabs to invade Antarctic shelf and disrupt its ecosystem.
King crabs are found in the bottom of ocean in the deep waters and can turn to shallow water in subarctic region.
For many years, crabs could not get too close to the Antarctic because the conditions were too cold for them. Generally, they can’t survive more than 1 degree Celsius colder temperature.
But recently, king crabs have been seen on the continental slope, just below the outer edges of the shelf. Due to rising temperatures, the conditions are expected to get nearly perfect for a crab invasion on the western Antarctic Peninsula in the future.
“Depth profiles of temperature, salinity, habitat structure, food availability and predators indicate that there are no barriers to prevent for king crabs from moving upward onto the outer shelf at 400-500 m. A cold water barrier above 200 m could be breached within the few next decades.” Study reads.
The arrival would have a huge impact on the local ecosystem as king crabs feed on such kind of soft organisms that are commonly found on Antarctic shelf.
“Because other creatures on the continental shelf have evolved without shell-crushing predators, if the crabs moved in they could radically restructure the ecosystem.” Lead author Richard Aronson said in statement.
To find out how many king crabs are present in the region, Aronson and his colleagues conducted a photographic survey off the Marguerite Bay on the western Antarctic Peninsula and found that more than few crabs were crawling down close to the shelf. They looked stable and producing eggs with the possibility of moving up on the lower end of Antarctic Continental shelf over the next few years. It is crucial to understand how crabs population will affect Antarctic ecosystem.
“This is about the diversity of marine communities on the planet,” said Aronson. “This is about what you want this planet to look like, what this planet ought to look like and how we are doing as stewards of the planet.”