How does rising atmospheric CO2 affect marine organisms?

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Effects of Climate Change on Antarctic Nematode Communities
Nielsen, U.N., Wall, D.H., Adams, B.J. and Virginia, R.A. 2011. Antarctic nematode communities: observed and predicted responses to climate change. Polar Biology 34: 1701-1711.

Nematodes are free-living microscopic roundworms, many of which of the Nematoda phylum's 15,000-plus species reside in soil, where they feed on bacteria, fungi and still smaller nematodes. In Antarctica, they represent a major component of the continent's primitive soil fauna; and they are expected to play a large role in the rejuvenation of its currently buried and barren land, as it is expected to gradually emerge from beneath the edges of the continent's receding ice in expected response to IPCC-predicted global warming.

What was done
Based on their review of the limited scientific research that pertains to this topic, Nielsen et al. give us a small glimpse of what the future may hold with respect to Antarctica's soil nematodes, which are predicted to soon be living in the potentially slightly-wetter and significantly warmer soil of the ice-laden land at the bottom of the world.

What was learned
"Of the few studies focusing on Antarctic nematode communities," in the words of the four researchers, "long-term monitoring has shown that nematode communities respond to changes in local climate trends as well as extreme (or pulse) events." And they add that "these results are supported by in situ experiments, which show that nematode communities respond to both temperature and soil moisture manipulations," leading them to conclude that "the predicted climate changes are likely to exert a strong influence on nematode communities throughout Antarctica and will generally lead to increasing abundance, species richness, and food web complexity."

What it means
Because it has been predicted that climate changes are "likely to occur faster and reach greater magnitudes" in earth's polar regions, and because "the most rapid climate warming to date has been observed in maritime Antarctica, where temperature increases of almost 3°C have been measured over the second half of the twentieth century (Turner et al., 2005)," Nielsen et al. say that "increasing our understanding of the effects of climate change on Antarctica's biotic communities will improve our ability to predict climate change impacts in other ecosystem types." And because primary among these impacts are "increased biodiversity, population densities, and soil food web complexity," one could validly conclude that the planet's biota - even way "down under" - has some pretty good times ahead of it, as the CO2-induced greening of the earth continues.

Turner, J., Colwell, S.R., Marshall, G.J., Lachlan-Cope, T.A., Carleton, A.M., Jones, P.D., Lagun, V., Reid, P.A. and Iagovkina, S. 2005. Antarctic climate change during the last 50 years. International Journal of Climatology 25: 279-294.

Reviewed 14 March 2012