The Surprising Link Between Sharks and Climate Change

posted: 10/02/15
by: SharkWeek.com Staff
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Further research is needed to better understand the role that sharks and other marine predators play in carbon cycling, according to a new study from Griffith University.

According to study co-author Rod Connolly, well-maintained coastal wetlands keep up to a quarter of a trillion kilograms of carbon out of the atmosphere annually. Much of that carbon-sequestering capacity is found in certain plants, like mangroves and seagrass, which are capable of storing carbon up to 40 times more efficiently than plants in terrestrial ecosystems.

As predator numbers decrease due to culling, overfishing and habitat loss, prey numbers naturally increase. With more smaller, herbivorous animals in the ocean, more carbon-harboring marine plants are consumed, reducing the carbon-sequestering capacity of marine ecosystems.

Leopard shark on the sea floor
Gorgai Photography/iStock

"Predators play an important and potentially irreplaceable role in carbon cycling. The effect of the disproportionate loss of species high in the food chain cannot be underestimated," Connolly explains in a news release.

"We are already aware of the need to manage how many fish we take and from where. But we should also know that our decisions affect climate change."

Connolly's paper, Predators help protect carbon stocks in blue carbon ecosystems, is published in the latest edition of the journal Nature Climate Change.


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