The species set to thrive in the Earth's post-human climate

By now you would have read all about how climate change is going to be very, very bad for the world and every species on it.

But it turns out there's one family of creatures that might thrive as temperatures go up and the oceans acidify - squids.

New research has found the cephalopods might one day rule the oceans - completely at odds with what scientists expected.

"Their blood is highly sensitive to changes in acidity, so we expected that future ocean acidification would negatively affect their aerobic performance," said Blake Spady of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland.

They already "live on the edge of their environmental oxygen limitations due to their energy-taxing swimming technique", so were expected to struggle as climate change messed up their ocean habitat.

bigfin reef squid
Bigfin reef squid. Photo credit: Getty

The ocean absorbs much of the carbon (CO2) humans pump into the atmosphere, which is good for curbing the greenhouse effect but bad for most creatures who have to live in it. When carbon dissolves in the ocean it forms carbonic acid, making it harder for aquatic creatures to breathe and build shells.

But when researchers simulated the kinds of conditions expected at the end of this century under current global warming predictions, they got a surprise. The two species they tested - two-toned pygmy squid and bigfin reef squid - did just fine.

"We found that these two species of tropical squid are unaffected in their aerobic performance and recovery after exhaustive exercise by the highest projected end-of-century CO2 levels," said Dr Spady.

And if squids are unaffected but other species - both predator and prey - struggle, that's good news. For squids, anyway.

"We think that squid have a high capacity to adapt to environmental changes due to their short lifespans, fast growth rates, large populations, and high rate of population increase," said Dr Spady.

Scientists began noticing squids and other cephalopod species, such as octopuses, seemed to be doing better than other species in adapting to climate change.

Dr Spady is now wondering what other species might have something to gain from climate change.

"We are likely to see certain species as being well-suited to succeed in our rapidly changing oceans, and these species of squid may be among them."

"The thing that is emerging with most certainty is that it's going to be a very different world," he said.

The research was published in journal Conservation Physiology.



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