Rock lobster can adapt to impact of climate change - Maties academic

2015-12-21 13:46

Cape Town - While the ocean temperatures rise with climate change, and humans debate whether our civilisation is at the point of no return, the West Coast rock lobster looks like it will merely shake off the changing conditions.

According to research by Dr Jarred Lee Knapp from Stellenbosch University, the lobster, which is commonly known in South Africa as crayfish, has a natural ability to adapt to varying environmental conditions - which may be its saving grace when it comes to climate change.

The research shows that the crustaceans have a natural ability to physically adapt their bodies to rising sea temperatures and increasingly acidic seawater, which are predicted to be the result of ongoing greenhouse gas emissions.

Knapp said his findings provided important information to help government fisheries predict the future management of the resource.

The West Coast rock lobster, which is a sought-after delicacy, is a species of spiny lobster which lives in cold waters off the west coast of South Africa and Namibia.  

This is a difficult space to live, as environmental conditions often change.

An example is upwelling events, where nutrient-rich water is driven towards the surface. These can cause the surrounding seawaters' pH level to reach extremely low values, from a more basic or alkaline seawater pH of 8.0 to a more acidic pH of 6.6.

"These events have been forecast to become more frequent and severe due to increased ocean acidification that is caused by the trapping of increased amounts of carbon dioxide in seawater," Knapp said.

A global pH for seawater of about 7.3, which is more acidic, is expected by the year 2300, according to Knapp.

Knapp found that the West Coast rock lobster is able to quickly respond to changes in its environment, and that these changes can be maintained for a sustained period.

They are also reversible, if the circumstances become more favourable again.

Knapp warned, however, that "the availability and quality of their food could influence the ability of the West Coast rock lobster to deal with environmental stressors".

Rock lobster typically feed on a mixed diet of mussels and sea urchins, among other things.

Knapp said that, in reality, the lobster was typically not only exposed to one or two stressors at a time, but rather a multitude of environmental factors.

These, when combined, could have an influence on the lobster's ability to respond to environmental change.

Read more on:    cape town  |  marine life

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