With increasingly acidic waters washing over the shores of Tatoosh Island, WA, mussel beds are balding and their shells thinning, and calcareous sponges that use dissolved calcium carbonate to create their skeletons are likely to disappear before anyone has the chance to study them. With fewer options for prey, previously resilient gull and murre populations have declined by half in the last ten years. Cathy Pfister and Timothy Wootton, both biology professors at the University of Chicago, attribute this deadly shift in acidity to increased ocean absorption of carbon dioxide, a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion. Drs. Pfister and Wootton were first introduced to Tatoosh Island in the '80s by their graduate adviser, UW Biology’s Dr. Bob Paine. Dr. Paine began research on Tatoosh in the ‘60s, and still returns to the island to carry out ecological research. It was on the mainland across from Tatoosh where Paine developed the keystone species concept, the idea that top predators drive the diversity of an ecosystem. Drs. Pfister and Wootton are now fully engaged in studying the Island’s species, and their work will better our understanding of the impact of human activities on the environment. Check out the full NYT article here.
Photo courtesy of Matthew Ryan Williams | New York Times