King Crab Invasion Likely If Antarctic Waters Get Warmer

If ocean temperatures continue to rise, Antarctica’s unique continental shelf ecosystem could be invaded by predatory crabs, according to researchers at the University of Southampton.

Sven Thatje, an evolutionary ecologist, has been studying the way that water temperature influences the distributions of King crab species in the Southern Ocean.

To confirm his hypothesis that King Crab range was limited by a “thermal barrier” of ocean temperatures, Thatje’s team studied the distribution of 17 species of king crab living at depths between around 500 and 1600 meters in the Southern Ocean.

“The researchers collated data from published records, museum collections, commercial fishing records, and reports from scientific research cruises and then compared those records to water temperatures measured at a range of relevant depths and geographical latitudes” (Futurity).

According to the study’s results, temperatures in and around the West Antarctic Peninsula are rising. These waters are usually too cold for King Crab larvae to survive, but thanks to climate change, the area might soon be more accommodating.

“Rapidly increasing water temperatures observed along the West Antarctic Peninsula could allow king crabs to spread from the slope of the peninsula to the continental shelf itself,” graduate student Sally Hall, who conducted research with Thatje, explained to Futurity.

“This could have considerable ecological consequences. King crabs are voracious predators that crush and then feed on their prey, but they and potentially competing predators such as sharks and rays, and other predatory crustaceans are largely absent on the high-Antarctic continental shelves,” Hall continued.

This study, for the first time, provides a scientists with a baseline indication of the limits of the lithodid distribution around Antarctica, which will be instrumental in any future work on range extensions of King Crab populations.

Antarctica has long been of interest to climate scientists, which has been slowly melting for several decades.

[Sources: Futurity | Polar Biology]

Image Credit: Flickr - p200eric

73 comments

C. R.
Carole R.3 years ago

Thanks

Suzanne Loewen
Suzanne L.4 years ago

Thank you for the article.

Hartson Doak
Hartson Doak4 years ago

With global warming there is going to be species redistribution The balance will come, if we don't eat everything first.

Patti Lounsbury
Patti Lounsbury4 years ago

Yeah, this one is more than a little out there. Crabs and spiders are all in the Phylum Anthropoda but to say they are closely related is like saying that since you and your goldfish are both in the Phylum Chordata the two of you are the same or closely related. After Phylum Anthropoda shrimp, crabs, lobsters,etc go immediately to the Subphylum Crustacea while spiders go the the Subphylum Chelicerata and cockroaches go to the Subphylum Uniramia.

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

Robyn, sorry, but you need to re-take BIOLOGY 101. Spiders are spiders, closely related to insects but "technically" have an additional set of legs. Crabs, on the other hand, are crustaceans (having shells), like lobsters, shrimp, krill, etc. Not even close.

Robyn O.
Robyn O.4 years ago

BTW, has anyone ever looked at a crab? The Japanese call them spiders and, hello, that's what they are, or at least very close relatives of spiders. Lobsters and crayfish are close relatives to ... cockroaches, sorry, and they all are affected by the same poisons. I don't want to think what shrimp are. Needless to say, I don't eat these insects any more.

Robyn O.
Robyn O.4 years ago

It's amazing how much can change when the climate changes all over the world. And how about those stupid fake "scientists" and boneheaded politicians who repeat only what they want to hear. We have to suffer just to keep the business system flourishing for the very, very rich. It's their world too, but they're so occupied with besting each other and showing off their wealth that they don't care that they're ruining this delicate planet.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle5 years ago

... just one more piece of evidence that we've moved too slowly on taking global warming seriously.

Andrea J.
Andrea J.5 years ago

Well...if there are more crab legs to go around, that means they'll be more affordable at restaurants ^_^ But otherwise this is disconcerting...

David N.
David N.5 years ago

Intersting. Thanks for the information.