24 September 2012
Posted in NatureWorks
Scientists may have found an answer to global warming: sea otters.
That’s right! A new study shows the heaviest members of the weasel family act as a control against sea urchins, which feed on kelp forests.
Why is this important? Kelp forests absorb carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas and a contributor to global warming (the gradual rise in Earth’s temperature). Sea urchins munch on kelp forests, decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide absorbing kelp. Sea otters have a positive effect biomass by eating sea urchins. Even the threat of sea otters is enough for the urchins to hide in underwater crevices and survive on plant scraps.
Sea otters are what are known as keystone species. We see this when a small predator (a sea otter) preys on a plant-eating animal (sea urchin) that would otherwise eliminate a dominant plant species (kelp). Other examples of keystone species include grizzly bears, carnivorous starfish and kangaroo rats.
The study, released by the University of California, Santa Cruz, examined 40 years of data collected from otters and kelp forests from Vancouver Island to the western shore of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.