Sea Stars' Amazing Natural Temperature Control No Match for Global Warming

red starfish photo

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

It was assumed that sea stars, also known as star fish, where at the mercy of the sun during periods of low tide. A new study, however, has uncovered a secret adaptation, one that has never before been seen in the animal kingdom, which allows sea stars to regulate their temperature in the changing tides.During periods of high tide, when the sea star's perch is flooded, the echinoderms soak up cold ocean water. This extra water is then used as a buffer when the sea star is exposed to direct sunlight and warm water during periods of low tide.

Researchers explained that:

It would be as if humans were able to look at a weather forecast, decide it was going to be hot tomorrow, and then in preparation suck up 15 or more pounds of water into our bodies

But this unique strategy for coping with highly-variable temperatures may be rendered ineffective by global warming. For the sea star's buffer to work, the ocean water must be sufficiently cold during periods of high tide. If it is not, the sea stars will either absorb warm water, or not get the cue they need to begin the process.

Eric Sanford, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, and co-author of the study said that "there are likely limits to how much this mechanism can buffer this animal against global change."

Indeed, the sea star's novel cooling strategy will be insufficient to deal with the challenge of a warming ocean.

Read more about ocean warming:
Another Dire Global Warming Effect: 10 Times As Many Ocean Dead Zones
Indian Ocean Shows Signs of Global Warming
How Will Global Warming Change Our Oceans? A Quick Primer
Sea Level Rises and Ocean Temperatures: 50 Percent Higher than Previously Expected

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