Brittle stars in hot water: new study shows how marine species respond to warming waters

Written by
Tom Garlinghouse
March 20, 2023

It is well established that warming ocean waters lead to oxygen loss – and oxygen loss has a deleterious effect on many marine animals. But the complex relationship between thermal tolerance, temperature variability and the response of many species to warming trends is not well understood – especially in tropical waters.

Now, in a recent study, Princeton geoscientist Curtis Deutsch and Smithsonian marine biologist Noelle Lucey are demonstrating how brittle stars -- skinny, starfish-like invertebrates – are adversely affected by oxygen-starved waters. The research, conducted on a coral reef ecosystem along the coast of Panama, shows the habitat choices and physiological responses these creatures are forced to make to avoid these dangerous oxygen-deficient waters.

“The oceans are getting warmer, and we need to understand how that impacts its ecosystems,” said Deutsch. “The oceans have been under sampled for a long time, and major international initiatives are needed to monitor ocean health in the face of mounting challenges from climate and other human impacts.”

This piece originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of The Charge, Princeton's environmental newsletter.

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