//
you're reading...

Biology

Lobsters may dive deeper as climate changes

           Wahle, R.A.; Dellinger, L.; Olszewski, S.; and P. Jekielek. 2015. American lobster nurseries of southern New England receding in the face of climate change. ICES Journal of Marine Science.  doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsv093

Introducing the American Lobster

Summer in New England means lobster season. Natives will gladly tell you their favorite recipes for this delicacy, and whether they prefer Maine, Massachusetts, or Rhode Island caught crustaceans.  According to an old salts’ tale, it is still legal in Massachusetts for a lobsterman to shoot at someone he catches pulling his pots. Each year, thousands of pounds of shellfish are removed from New England coastal waters and sold commercially, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.  The American lobster is iconic and economically relevant, but it may be at risk due to human induced rapid climate change.  Lobsters are particularly vulnerable to changing ocean temperatures because they spend a long time in the larval stage which is sensitive to extreme conditions.

9.15 1

Figure 1: Homarus americanus, the American lobster, in its rocky ocean habitat

Looking at Lobster Abundance over Time

Data on commercial lobster catches provide anecdotal evidence that lobster populations are indeed threatened by extreme events thought to be tied to rapid climate change.  The American lobster’s abundance peaked during the mid-1990s in southern New England.  Commercial lobster harvests were at historical highs during that period; however, shell disease, extremely warm summer temperatures, mixing of ocean layers from extreme storms, and heavy rainfall have all contributed to a dramatic decline in lobster landings.  During the summer of 2000, there was a 75% drop in Long Island Sound lobster populations which collapsed the local commercial fishery.  Further north, where summers remain cooler, sudden and short-lived heat waves in 2012 actually led to an over-supply of landed lobsters.  Processing factories that year were overwhelmed by the catch, causing the price of Maine lobsters to drop.

Many researchers believe that lobsters, like other temperature sensitive species, will shift their range northward in the coming years to seek out a more suitable, cooler habitat.  This study instead examined lobster populations at a range of depths, asking whether lobsters will also be shifting their habitat into deeper ocean, which can be cooler than coastal waters.

Survey Methods

This study evaluated shifts in the number of lobsters surviving to adulthood at several sites with different depths around Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, using a previous study as a baseline for comparison.  The authors visited sixteen sites located along a range of depths in 1990 and again in 2011 or 2012.  Furthermore, a single deep water site was sampled once in 2012; this site was 17 meters deeper than the average depth of the other sites. The data on lobster abundance at each site was collected in three ways: 1) visual surveys, 2) suction sampling, and 3) passive post-larval collectors (Figure 2). 9.15 2

  • Visual surveys, performed in July and early August, were conducted by divers. The divers carefully overturned rocks and searched through crevices in boulders, working slowly to avoid clouding the water with sand and other sediment that would make it difficult to see the crustaceans.  They counted and measured the length of all the lobsters they found.
  • Suction sampling occurred from late August until the first week of September. Diver pairs worked together to vacuum small, randomly placed patches along the sea floor.  Twenty of these identically-sized patches were sampled at each site, and post-larval lobsters were again counted and measured.
  • Passive collectors like the one pictured in Figure 2 were placed at the sites to check whether the diver-based methods were accurate. These traps are large enough to support living organisms for several months, as they are mostly open to the elements.  Unlike traditional lobster pots, these allow the animals to move freely both in and out of the trap. Collectors were dropped at the sites in late May and retrieved at the same time as the suction sampling, in late August.

Figure 2: A passive post-larval collector like the ones used in this study

Results

The results showed a dramatic decline in lobster populations and sizes between 1990 and 2012 – there was nearly a ten-fold decrease in population density between the twelve years (Figure 3).  Animals were smaller and found at fewer sites in 2012 than in 1990.  Most of the lobsters found in the 2012 data were collected at the deepest site, which was 17 meters deeper than the average depth for the other sites.  Unfortunately, the deep site was not surveyed in 1990, so it is impossible to know whether lobsters were found there abundantly during that time.  It certainly is reasonable to conclude that lobsters are moving deeper in search of cool summer habitat.

9.15 3

Figure 3: Lobster density at the study sites over the three years sampled, showing a higher density during 1990 compared to the early 2000s.  Asterisks (*) indicated sites that were only sampled once.  Fort Wetherill is the deepest site, located 17 meters deeper than the average depth of all other sites.

Another interesting finding from the study involves a highly invasive species called the Asian shore crab (Figure 4).  Asian shore crab populations have exploded in recent years from southern New England down to the Chesapeake Bay.  This species thrives in many different coastal habitat types, breeds quickly, and eats a variety of different foods.  Native crab populations have dwindled in the face of this invader.  While this data was not quantified in the current study, the authors noted that Asian shore crabs were found at all of the sites except the deepest site surveyed.  It is possible that the Asian shore crabs are out-competing lobsters in shallow waters but are limited by extreme depth.  Certainly, further study about the effect of Asian shore crab on lobster populations is needed.

 

9.15 4

Figure 4: Hemigrapsus sanguineus, the Asian shore crab, with a penny for size comparison

Conclusions

This study shows that coastal lobster populations have all but collapsed in southern New England.  While lobster ranges may be shifting northward, they are also likely shifting into deeper waters, which will make catching them more dangerous and difficult for lobstermen.  While this shift is probably due primarily to climate change, an invasive species called the Asian shore crab may also be influencing lobster populations.

Questions?  Comments?  Please sound off below!  I’d love to hear from you :)

 

Discussion

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] and distribution of marine ecosystems, redefining where marine species like fish, crabs, and lobsters are able to live, and causing sea ice to melt. Ocean acidification, which is caused by rising CO2, […]

Post a Comment

Instagram

  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    Happy Earth Day! Take some time today to do something for the planet and appreciate the ocean, which covers 71% of the Earth’s surface.  #EarthDay   #OceanAppreciation   #Oceanbites   #CoastalVibes   #CoastalRI 
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    Not all outdoor science is fieldwork. Some of the best days in the lab can be setting up experiments, especially when you get to do it outdoors. It’s an exciting mix of problem solving, precision, preparation, and teamwork. Here is
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    Being on a research cruise is a unique experience with the open water, 12-hour working shifts, and close quarters, but there are some familiar practices too. Here Diana is filtering seawater to gather chlorophyll for analysis, the same process on
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #oceanbites  we are featuring Hannah Collins  @hannahh_irene  Hannah works with marine suspension feeding bivalves and microplastics, investigating whether ingesting microplastics causes changes to the gut microbial community or gut tissues. She hopes to keep working
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 10 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com