When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, in 2012, she was well-informed about the dangers posed by ocean acidification. What Merkel wanted to know was whether marine organisms could ever adapt to these changing conditions.
It’s an important question with potentially dramatic implications for our food chain—and one that German marine biologist Ulf Riebesell has spent the past seven years exploring through his research. What’s becoming increasingly clear is that while some organisms may be able to adapt to lower pH levels, many more will be challenged to do so when exposed to additional stressors such as global warming.
These developments could lead to a decline in biodiversity in the ocean, with some organisms losing the ability to compete and eventually disappearing from their ecosystem.
“Evolution will not be fast enough to replace those species that are lost,” says Riebesell, a professor of biological oceanography who joined GEOMAR in 2003. “With declining biodiversity, we expect ecosystems to be less tolerant to further change. Many of the ecosystem functions we rely on will change—many of them not for the better—and food production is likely to be one of them.”
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