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King Crabs Invade Antarctic Waters

February 12, 2011 Comments off

A warmer Antarctica makes a hospitable home for these crabs, endangering an entire ecosystem that has no defenses against them.

THE GIST

  • Shell-crushing king crab are expanding their kingdoms into the Antarctic peninsula.
  • Creatures living there for tens of millions of years have no defenses against these crustaceans.
  • Warmer waters are facilitating the crabs’ advancement.
crab A crab, Paralomis birsteini, lies on the seafloor some 1,200 meters (3,937 feet) below the surface.
Courtesy Richard B. Aronson, Florida Tech 

McMURDO STATION, Antarctica — Warming waters along the Antarctic peninsula have opened the door to shell-crushing king crabs that threaten a unique ecosystem on the seafloor, according to new research by a U.S.-Sweden team of marine researchers.

On a two-month voyage of the Swedish icebreaker Oden and U.S. research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer, marine biologists collected digital images of hundreds of crabs moving closer to the shallow coastal waters that have been protected from predators with pincers for more than 40 million years. They are the same kind of deep-water crabs with big red claws that you might find at the seafood counter.

“Along the western Antarctica peninsula we have found large populations over like 30 miles of transects. It was quite impressive,” said Sven Thatje, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Southampton in England and chief scientist on the cruise.

Finding crabs on the bottom of the ocean isn’t that big a deal. But here in Antarctica, Read more…