Climate Feedback

Sea stars suck it up

Olive Heffernan

<img alt=“iStock_000003458150XSmall.jpg” src=“” width=“200” height=“300” align=“right” hspace=“10px”//>The echinoderms – a group of marine animals including sea stars, sea urchins and sea lilies – bury much more carbon than previously suspected, finds a new study published in the journal Ecological Monographs.

Mario Lebrato of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Science in Germany undertook the study with colleagues while still an undergraduate at the University of Southampton, UK. The team collected echinoderm samples from deep sea and shallower water sites at numerous latitudes in the Atlantic Ocean. Their study of the five classes of echinoderms (sea cucumbers, sea lilies, sea stars, sea urchins and brittlestars) shows that the organisms draw down around 0.1 gigatonnes of carbon each year to the deep sea. Because some of their body parts are made of calcium carbonate, the carbon remains on the seafloor in this form when they die.

In comparison, pelagic organisms, such as plankton, draw down around 0.4 to 1.8 gigatonnes of carbon each year. Human activity releases about 5.5 gigatonnes into the atmosphere annually.

Matt Kaplan reports the full story over on Nature News [subscription].

Image: © ISTOCKPHOTO / Jeremy Wedel


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