Honey We Shrunk The Plankton, Climate Change Making Aquatic Organisms Smaller

plankton comparison photo

'On left: microscopic photo of the spring diatom bloom with large organisms dominating. On right: warming of six degrees with smaller flagellates dominating.'
Image credit:IFM-GEOMAR, via PhysOrg.com

I want to be careful not to exaggerate the significance of this work. That said, I find it disturbing to learn that a warming ocean selects for smaller aquatic organisms over a human time scale. One implication is that, in a few human generations, climate change could turn the specialized plankton feeding behaviors of fishes, selected for over many thousands of years, into an evolutionary disadvantage. Entire ecosystems could be altered. PhysOrg reports on research confirming this effect in "Climate change influences the size of marine organisms." They note that researchers found this tendency in bacteria, algae, zooplankton and fishes in the North and Baltic Sea and in French rivers.

Read on for details.The cited publication covered in the PhysOrg story is:

Global warming benefits the small in aquatic ecosystems
Martin Daufresn, Kathrin Lengfellner, and Ulrich Sommera

FB3–Marine O¨ kologie, Leibniz-Institut fu¨ r Meereswissenschaften (IFM-GEOMAR), 24105 Kiel, Germany; and bHYAX–Lake Ecosystems Laboratory, Cemagref, 13182 Aix-en-Provence, France

Edited by Stephen R. Carpenter, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, and approved June 3, 2009 (received for review February 25, 2009)

Below is an image of the abstract.

abstract plankton paper image

I enjoyed reading the abstract far more than the news about this work. I suppose it's hard to condense something so important, complex, and disturbing, into sound bytes.

Moby Minnow. Would that work as a title for an epic novel about the relationship of man and nature?

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