Skeleton-breaking crabs expand into Antarctic

This post contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Conjuring up a scene from a B-rated science fiction flick, new digital images show hundreds of king crabs moving closer to the sea stars, sea urchins and other bottom dwellers that have lived free from such predators in Antarctica’s coastal waters for 40 million years. Onboard the U.S. research vessel Nathaniel Palmer and the Swedish ice-breaker Oden, an international team of marine biologists sampled areas of the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas to assess the status of crab populations in western Antarctica.  Until recently, this region has been too cold for predators such as crabs, rays and sharks.  As a consequence, the animals that live there lack defenses against such predators. In their collaborative research project summary to the National Science Foundation, researchers Rich Aronson (Florida Institute of Technology), James McClintock (University of Alabama, Birmingham), Sven Thatje (University of Southampton) and colleagues note that  “climatic cooling beginning in the Eocene eliminated durophagous [skeleton-breaking] fish and crustaceans from Antarctic waters.  Since that time, the benthos has evolved toward an archaic, quasi-Paleozoic community structure in the absence of those top predators.” That community structure, as described by a February 8 Discovery article, resembles a “thick canopy of sorts, much like a submarine jungle comprised of flowery feather stars, tube worms and squirming sea spiders.”  According to the researchers, that ecosystem and its inhabitants could be upended if the skeleton-crushing crustaceans reach it. A key part of the international team’s assessment was towing an underwater instrument that took high-resolution images of the seafloor.  Though they had suspected that warming water temperatures would enable king crabs to move from the deep ocean and up the continental slope, the researchers were surprised at the pace at which entire populations of the crustaceans are scrabbling closer to Antarctica’s shallow coastal waters. Below a certain temperature, crabs are unable to process magnesium in their blood, which has a narcotic effect on them.  This limiting factor is what has kept the crabs in the deep waters, which are actually slightly warmer than the Antarctic’s continental slope and shelf.  The Discovery News article explains that “unlike most areas of the world, the shallower waters on the Antarctic continental shelf are actually slightly colder than the deeper waters of the Southern Ocean.  That’s because of a clockwise current of water called the Antarctic circumpolar current. That flow of cold water keeps Antarctic marine life—especially the bottom-dwelling creatures—isolated.” But as an article in The Antarctic Sun noted, the average winter temperature in the region has increased by 6 degrees Centigrade since the 1950s while the average ocean temperature has gone up...

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ESA Policy News: January 28

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: REORGANIZED COMMITTEES TAKE SHAPE Congressional leadership has spent the past few weeks reorganizing House committees, which will now be led by Republican chairmen. In proportion to the new majority gains, minority committee rosters will also shrink as many Democrats who survived re-election will still loose slots on top committees. Membership on committees in general will decrease slightly as Republicans had pledged to reduce their overall size. The following committees are expected to play some role in science and environmental issues as they are debated in the 112th Congress: Appropriations House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rodgers (R-KY) intends to follow the GOP’s pledge to ban earmarks as part of its agenda to cut federal discretionary spending, a sentiment recently echoed by President Obama. The first order of business for the committee could be the Continuing Resolution, which expires March 4. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has stated the House could take up an extension covering the remainder of FY 2011 the week of Feb. 14. Energy and Commerce Chairman Upton has divided the former Energy and Environment Subcommittee into two different panels. Rep. Whitfield will chair the Energy and Power Subcommittee while Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) will serve as the subcommittee’s ranking member. Rep. John Schimkus (R-IL) will chair the Environment and Economy Subcommittee while Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) will serve as the ranking member. Upton and Whitfield have already joined with Senate Environment Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe in strategizing a proposal to permanently block EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Natural Resources House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) has been critical of the Department of Interior’s current land management and energy regulatory efforts. Many of the views of the new subcommittee chairmen also forecast a dramatic ideological shift from the previous Congress. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) will chair the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee. Rep. Bishop has pushed for increased access to mineral resources on public lands. Rep. Raul Grijalva will serve as the subcommittee’s ranking member. Science, Space and Technology Representative Ralph Hall (R–TX), the new chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee announced this month that freshmen will lead four of the five subcommittees on his panel. The unusual lineup, for a body in which seniority is still the best ticket to leadership positions, is the result of senior members on the science panel holding subcommittee chairs on more prestigious committees. The lone holdover from the previous Congress, when Republicans were the minority party,...

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ESA Policy News: December 22

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.

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Mechanized planet? Where geoengineering stands

Several proposals for geoengineering projects are being explored–including cloud seeding, ocean iron fertilization and afforestation–as a plan for mitigating climate change. Monica Kanojia explores these methods and the current economic and technological issues surrounding them.

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Climate Change: What Broadcast Meteorologists Believe

When it comes to information about climate change, we want to believe that most people make rational, informed decisions based on a careful analysis of data. The truth for many people, though, is that their main source for climate change information is their local broadcast meteorologist. Unfortunately, this information often comes in the few seconds before or after a weathercast when a news anchor might ask the meteorologist if an unusually warm winter day is a “sure sign of global warming.”

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ESA Policy News: December 10

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: GOP NAMES COMMITTEE CHAIRS House Republican leaders on Tuesday, Dec. 7 announced their roster of committee chairmen, all of whom have vowed to conduct vigorous oversight of the Obama Administration. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), a noted climate skeptic, was picked by House GOP leaders to chair the Science and Technology Committee. “Our Committee will help ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested wisely in research and development programs by providing effective oversight of existing programs and by eliminating wasteful and duplicative programs and streamlining programs where needed,” said Hall in a subsequent statement. Hall was among 143 Republicans to support the first America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-069) enacted in 2007, which authorized funding for three agencies: the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Office of Science at the Department of Energy. However, he voted against the reauthorization bill, which passed by a more partisan vote of 262-150 and will have to be reintroduced if the Senate fails to send the bill to the president before year’s end. Hall expressed concern in committee that “some of these new programs” established in the reauthorization “are potentially duplicative of current efforts” and “increase the cost of the bill by billions.” The steering committee also selected Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) over Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) to head the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Tea party activists had opposed Upton, whom they felt was not conservative enough. Upton had supported a bipartisan measure that increased the use of energy-efficient light bulbs in the energy law (P.L. 110-140), signed by President Bush in Dec. 2007. A committee lineup of the incoming House Committee Chairmen and Ranking Members, as elected by the Republican and Democratic Caucuses, includes the list below (*indicate expected Ranking Members as Democrats expect to vote on their remaining slots next week): Agriculture: Frank D. Lucas (R-OK), *Collin Peterson (D-MN) Appropriations:  Hal Rogers (R-KY), Norman Dicks (D-WA) Budget: Paul Ryan (R-WI), *Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) Education and Labor: John Kline (MN), *George Miller (D-CA) Energy and Commerce: Fred Upton (R-MI), Henry Waxman (D-CA) Natural Resources:  Doc Hastings (R-WA), *Ed Markey (D-MA) Science & Technology:  Ralph M. Hall (R-TX), *Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) Transportation & Infrastructure:  John L. Mica (R-FL), *Nick Rahall (D-WV) CLIMATE: SUPREME COURT TO HEAR GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS CASE The U.S. Supreme Court announced Dec. 6 that it will take on a potentially landmark case examining if states can hold individual power plants accountable for their greenhouse gas emissions. American Electric Power Co., Duke Energy, Southern Co., Xcel Energy Inc. and the...

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The price tag of climate change

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming met one last time December 1, 2010 for a hearing entitled, “Not Going Away: America’s Energy Security, Jobs and Climate Challenges.” Committee Chairman Edward Markey described it as a “fitting title for issues that will be central to the health and survival of our planet and our economy for decades and centuries to follow.” The final hearing of the Committee, formed under the direction of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in early 2007, consisted of testimony both familiar and unique to the ongoing debate over the direction of climate policy.

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From the Community: Parasitic wasps, flamingo pigment and spiny anteaters

Altered behavior in caterpillars carrying wasp eggs, preliminary thoughts on the 2010 election results, monitoring climate change from Mount Everest to Baffin Bay, insight into drug-resistant bacteria mutations and origins of the Black Death. Here is the latest in ecological science for the first week in November.

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