King Crabs Could Invade Antarctic, Altering Entire Ecosystem

Written by on September 30, 2015 in Marine Life

King crabs haven’t played a role in Antarctic ecosystems for tens of millions of years, but they may soon become top predators, according to a new study led by the Florida Institute of Technology.

Alaskan red king crab, Paralithodes camtschaticus.

Alaskan red king crab, Paralithodes camtschaticus. Photo credit: The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, CC-BY-SA-3.0.

The Antarctic Peninsula is “one of the most rapidly warming places on the planet”, which is making it easier for king crabs to move in. If the water gets warm enough, there will be no barriers (like salinity, sediment type, etc) to prevent the crabs from establishing a presence in the area.

“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, professor and head of Florida Tech’s Department of Biological Sciences, explained in a news release.

This study only provides the initial data on whether or not the crabs could invade. It doesn’t say they necessarily will.

“The only way to test the hypothesis that the crabs are expanding their depth-range is to track their movements through long-term monitoring,” said co-author James McClintock of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

If king crabs do move in, the Antarctic ecosystem will be fundamentally changed, potentially decreasing marine biodiversity around the world.

To learn more:

  • Read the Florida Tech news release: King Crabs Threaten Antarctic Ecosystem Due to Warming Ocean
  • Read the study abstract: No Barrier to Emergence of Bathyal King Crabs on the Antarctic Shelf

Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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