Same species responds differently to same warming, depending on location

Based on current trends for both air and water temperatures, by 2100 the body temperatures of California mussels -- found along thousands of miles of coast in the northeast Pacific Ocean and not just in California - could increase between about 2 degrees F and 6.5 F depending on where they live.

For areas where mussels already are living close to the edge, chances are that increases of 6.5 F will kill them, researchers say.

Unlike humans, the body temperature of marine animals such as mussels is regulated by the temperature of the air and water around them - and it's not the simple 1-degree warmer and 1-degree rise in body temperature that has been assumed, says Sarah Gilman, a University of Washington postdoctoral researcher and lead author of a paper appearing online June 5 through June 9 in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For the first time, Gilman and her co-authors show that even if the weather warms the air and water the same amounts in one area as another, the actual effect on mussel body temperatures can vary because of local climate. For example, in Washington, air temperature appears to be more important in driving mussel temperature while in southern California, water temperature is the more important factor.

"This is an important consideration for conservation biologists trying to understand how a species might handle global warming and to those proposing reserves in marine environments," Gilman says. "Protected areas will need to be in places where marine animals can live in the face of climate change."

In work funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, data loggers - tiny computers with thermometers - have been used to collect information in mussel beds. The data loggers, nicknamed "robomussels," record the temperatures being experienced by the surrounding mussels every 10 minutes for months at a time. <

Contact: Sandra Hines
University of Washington

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