We’re celebrating Earth Month by highlighting the importance of biodiversity for all ecosystems on earth and the animal kingdom. “Biodiversity (from “biological diversity”) refers to the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life.” Biodiversity is the most complex feature of our planet. And, biodiversity is the most vital part of earth although it’s mostly undiscovered.
Charles Darwin’s observations on the Galápagos Islands set into motion his theory of evolution by the means of natural selection. And indeed Islands are experiments in evolution; on islands there is freedom from competition and species have access to new habitats. They have more unique species than other places.
As oceans warm because of the climate crisis, scientists wonder how marine animals will adapt. What better place to look at that question than on the Galápagos Islands? Just as the islands are a natural laboratory for studying evolution, they are also one for studying resilience in the face of the climate crisis. There are more than 520 marine species that are found only in the ocean around the islands. One of the reasons marine life is so rich around the islands is that ocean currents bring cold, nutrient-rich waters that feed the food web.
As the atmosphere has warmed due to human-driven climate change, the ocean has taken up an excessive amount of both heat and carbon dioxide. These changes are impacting many marine organisms now in ways we are just starting to understand — and likely in ways we don’t yet understand.
Sea star wasting disease (SSWD) has decimated more than 20 species of sea stars on the west coast. Scientists have found that the times and locations of the biggest sea star death coincided with the presence of abnormally warm water. The sea star’s relatively simple immune systems might be weaker when sea stars get hot.
The deep sea is dark, mysterious and mostly unexplored. As technology improves scientists gain more resources to help reveal more and more about the largest habitat on earth. We consider ourselves very fortunate to live on Monterey Bay where the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) is on the cutting edge of deep-sea research.