Not So Lucky: Climate Change is Killing Horseshoe Crabs
September 2, 2010 8:50 AM
Sea-level rise and ocean temperatures are affecting horseshoe crab breeding
New research from the
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
reveals that horseshoe crab populations may be declining
due to changes in the climate
Horseshoe crabs are arthropods that have lived on the planet for approximately 450 million years. These ancient creatures have declined in population in more recent years, and the main reason is because of overharvesting (for fertilizer and bait) and coastal habitat destruction. But now,
may have some part in the dwindling numbers as well.
"Using genetic variation, we determined the trends between past and present population sizes of horseshoe crabs found that a clear decline in the number of horseshoe crabs has occurred that parallels climate change associated with the end of
the last Ice Age
," said Tim King, lead author of the study and a scientist with the USGS.
According to research by the USGS, accompanying water temperature fluctuations and sea-level rise have contributed to limited horseshoe crab interbreeding and distribution. This leads to a reduction in population, which is what happened when temperatures rose after the last Ice Age.
Horseshoe crabs are not the only creatures affected by their decline, though. Migrating
like the Red Knot depend on horseshoe crab eggs for food each spring. Red Knots usually eat horseshoe crab eggs at Delaware Bay during migration, but severe population declines in horseshoe crabs have occurred all along the eastern seaboard of the United States. Significant declines have also occurred in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
In addition, Atlantic loggerhead turtles have experienced a change in population due to the lack of adult horseshoe crabs in Chesapeake Bay.
Now, conservation managers are using certain findings, such as the fact that adult male horseshoe crabs travel from bay to bay while females stay in one place, to create both local and regional strategies to help sustain the horseshoe crab populations, and help them to continue reproducing.
"Consequently, harvest limitations on females in populations with low numbers may be a useful management strategy, as well as relocating females from adjacent bays to help restore certain populations," said King. "Both studies highlight the importance of considering both climatic change and other human-caused factors such as overharvest in understanding the population dynamics of this and other species."
was published in
in August of this year.
"Let's face it, we're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn." -- Seagate CEO Bill Watkins
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