Chief Science Correspondent
For millions of years, the icy cold waters surrounding the Antarctic continent were isolated from the rest of the planet. As these critical regions of the Southern Hemisphere become warmer, the boundaries are no longer so clear. These warmer conditions have made way for the possible invasion of a likely disastrous predator: the king crab.
The media has been quick to take note of a recent study, published in an early edition of Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences. Just six pages long including references, the paper presents evidence that a reproductively viable population has formed on the outer continental slope surrounding the West Antarctic Peninsula (which is one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth).
The ecology of the waters surrounding Antarctica is unique, and has been studied as a model for how ancient marine ecosystems once functioned. Sea stars and nemertean worms are the top predators in the system, and most fauna have thin shells. Thus, shell-crushing crustacean invaders pose a massive threat to these vulnerable organisms.