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Topic: Marine Biology





Claudia Traboni



David Demory

Postdoctoral Researcher
Georgia Tech

School of Biological Sciences

Ocean warming: ecosystem meltdown in the drifting world

Medium:  Digital


The illustration depicts a typical polar pelagic environment where organisms struggle for survival under the effect of rising temperatures. Our piece tries to showcase the dual reality in a plankton food web under climate change scenarios: beauty and anxiety. The beauty of life forms that are in a constant rush to escape from their killers (viruses and grazers). The input of nutrients from the melting ice determines the explosion of our main character: Diversity. Diversity expresses itself here at three levels: a) diversity in terms of color and shape, b) evolutionary diversity as the organisms making up the food web belong to very distantly related phylogenetic branches and c) diversity in life strategies evolved by each of the organisms. Plankton species are illustrated while interacting with one another during infection by marine viruses or predation processes. Viruses need to inject their genetic material into host cells to replicate themselves, whereas copepod feeders wait for the prey to pass by until they detect it with their antennae and are ready to catch them up. The scaling of the organism is not realistic on purpose. In fact, between viruses and copepods, there are more than a thousand orders of magnitude difference in size. However, equanimity needs to be given to both organism types to reflect their equally important ecological role in environmental equilibria and as artistic characters. Nowadays, scientists do not know how plankton and their predators will react to climate change and how the changes in their environment will affect their life and their impact on the whole ocean processes. With about 50% of the carbon fixed by ocean plankton ecosystems, climate change may decrease one of the most efficient mechanisms to mitigate rising anthropogenic C02 emissions in the atmosphere.

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