Tiny Limpets: The Heavy Lifters of Climate Resilience

Source: Hakai Magazine/Christopher Pollon - December 4, 2017 in Science/Tech

Tiny Limpets: The Heavy Lifters of Climate Resilience
Photo: S. Rae/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

As the ocean temperature rises, it may be the little things that make the biggest difference to the survival and resilience of living things.

Take the limpet, a tiny snail-like gastropod with a hefty appetite for the minute plants that live in the intertidal—the space between low and high tide. In 2014, Becca Kordas, then a zoology doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia, tested the effect these creatures have on the ecosystem when exposed to ocean warming. She found that their influence was huge.

Kordas launched her project by sinking four sets of settlement plates in the intertidal zone of Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, about 55 kilometers southwest of Vancouver. For 16 months, Kordas and her colleagues tracked which plants and animals established themselves on the four different types of plots. Kordas controlled the limpets’ access to half of the plates, while they were free to graze on the other half. She also simulated the effects of ocean warming by tinting some of the plates black to attract the sun’s heat.

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