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The Impact of Global Warming on Food Webs

Link to article: https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/10/as-the-arctic-heats-up-whats-in-store-for-its-food-webs/

The article, As the Arctic Heats Up, What’s In Store For Its Food Webs?, discusses the potentially detrimental effect of the melting of sea ice on Arctic food webs. The article starts by describing how climate change could cause an entire food web to collapse or be reshaped from the bottom up; this being a result of the links between each “level” of the food chain. The example given was, “A small fish eats plankton, is eaten by a bigger fish, and the bigger fish gets eaten by a seabird; each of those species feeds, or is fed by, a huge range of other species.” However, climate change could cause a “regime shift” in the food web, which is concerning a team of researchers in Tromsø and Svalbard. According to the article, the researchers sketched out a description of the “core interactions that make up the food web”. After creating a complex model of the food web, the researchers were able to measure how the food web in Kongsfjorden (the place the web was modeled after), would change from year to year.

Dwindling sea ice next to a mostly snowless cliff shore.

Melting Arctic sea ice

The results of the model were not great. In 2006, the web took a “severe knock”, and the resilience of the entire system has been “slightly negative” since then. However, on the bright side, Kongsfjordan was able to keep its “central ecological processes” running from 2004 until 2016. Yet, that is not ideal for the habitats. Although none of the warmer Atlantic waters and species flowing into the Arctic have been permanent or above the threshold that would wreck the complex balance of Kongsfjorden or cause a regime shift, only the core ecological processes were sustained. That means there could be an enormous loss of biodiversity, biomass, and others.

Although the model cannot predict the future, researchers think that the warming of the Arctic could cause highly predated species to flood into the Arctic and to help “maintain the higher levels of predators in the Arctic food web”. However, the food quality could decrease, since some species could be forced to eat “less-calorific” animals. Researchers predict, “the polar refuges will shrink and may then set up the system for a larger-scale persistent collapse.”

An interesting thing about these Kongsfjordan models, and food webs in general, is the effect that one action in the web has on the rest of the web. Just like the beginning of the article says, “a small fish eats plankton, is eaten by a bigger fish, and the bigger fish gets eaten by a seabird; each of those species feeds, or is fed by, a huge range of other species.” This shows how almost all of the food web is connected to each other, and that global warming could have the ripple effect be the consequences for the food web. This concept is similar to the concept of 6 degrees of separation; where there are a maximum of 6 connections between 2 people in a social network. Global warming is able to affect all of the Arctic through all of the connections that exist in the food web; not just a small subset of animals near the melting ice.

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