Silke Lischka, marine biologist at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel is a pteropod expert. These planktonic snails are also called sea butterflies, because they flutter through the ocean with their foot that has developed into two small wings. „ I really enjoy looking at them“, says Silke Lischka.
But the elegant organisms are also very important. They are food for fish, sea birds and whales – and they also control part of the food web because they also eat a lot themselves. Ocean acidification affects their delicate calcium carbonate shells. Working on pteropods from Svalbard, Silke Lischka noticed that individuals living in the far north are especially endangered. They have a resting phase in winter when their metabolism is reduced and any impact catches them off-guard.
Because it is difficult to keep sea butterflies at the lab, there are no long-term observations yet that would help to find out if they might be able to adapt to ocean acidification through evolution. “It may still be that they survive in the end and can cope with these changing environmental conditions much better than we expect based on our current results”, hopes Silke Lischka.