Environment Grass of the sea, cut down by ocean heatwaves

Grass of the sea, cut down by ocean heatwaves

At the very bottom of the aquatic food chain you find microscopic algae known as phytoplankton.

Despite its humble status, researchers at University of Tasmania have discovered the effects of ocean warming on phytoplankton could have devastating consequences higher up the food chain.

Satellite measurements and modelling show that phytoplankton is highly sensitive to water temperature. It struggles to bloom in low nutrient areas, during marine heatwaves.

Climate change is expected to result in more frequent episodes of these conditions.

The university’s Dr Hakase Hayashida says this is bad news for organisms higher up the food chain including people.

“Phytoplankton are at the base of ocean ecosystems and provide food for larger organism such as zooplankton and fish, which it turn support higher-level animals and birds,” Dr Hayashida said.

Up until now, researchers have focused their attention on how ocean warming will affect coral and other marine animals and phytoplankton didn’t really feature.

Now they think one of the smallest ocean dwellers might have one of the biggest impacts on the ecosystem.

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