New Study Shows Otters Help Combat Global Warming
September 11, 2012
When left unchecked, pesky sea urchins will devour kelp forests. That means keeping healthy populations of urchin predators, like sea otters, can lead to more vigorous, abundant kelp—and cutbacks to atmospheric CO2, according to a new study by UC Santa Cruz researchers.
The paper, published Sept. 7 in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, reports healthy kelp absorbs 12 items more carbon dioxide than kelp that's been grazed to ribbons by urchins.
"[This paper] is significant because it shows that animals can have a big influence on the carbon cycle," UCSC professor and co-author Chris Wilmers said in a statement.
When otters are around, sea urchins hide in crevices and dine on kelp scraps. Without otters, urchins will go for living kelp, according to the study.
"Right now, all the climate change models and proposed methods of sequestering carbon ignore animals," Wilmers said. "But animals the world over, working in different ways to influence the carbon cycle, might actually have a large impact.
"If ecologists can get a better handle on what these impacts are, there might be opportunities for win-win conservation scenarios, whereby animal species are protected or enhanced, and carbon gets sequestered," he said.
The researchers estimate the kelp-otter link removes atmospheric CO2 that could be valued at up to $408 million on the European Carbon Exchange.