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How Climate Change Is Affecting Sea Squirts In Antarctica

How Climate Change Is Affecting Sea Squirts In Antarctica

Antarctica may have a reputation for being cold, icy, and lifeless for miles on end, but an important marine animal near the continent is the focus of a new study. This study investigates how the animals — ascidians, also known as tunicates or sea squirts — react to shifts in marine ecosystems off the West Antarctic Peninsula, prompted by climate change.

Sea squirts live by filtering water in through their mouths, collecting nutrients from the water as it passes through their bodies, and then ‘squirting’ it out of their anuses. As tadpoles, sea squirts will swim around, eating food and growing and then searching for a suitable spot in which they can settle down, immobilized for the rest of their lives. Once they select a spot, sea squirts will attach themselves headfirst. They will then reabsorb some of their body parts and recycle them to create a new adult structure suited for the filtering process. Some will pick an isolated spot and live alone while others form whole colonies.

“Sea squirts are found in all the world’s seas, at all depths,” Gastón Alurralde, a researcher and marine ecologist at the National University of Cordoba in Argentina, who is not affiliated with the new study, explained in an interview with GlacierHub. He emphasized that sea squirts can exhibit strange body features, almost like alien species, in order to take advantage of the scarce resources at the ocean’s lowest depths. “In many cases, they can even go unnoticed and we can step on them on rocky beaches,” he stated, highlighting how these creatures exist almost everywhere.

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