I am a graduate student investigating how the nutritional value of organisms at the bottom of the marine food chain might be affected by ocean acidification (OA), a CO2-induced phenomena that alters the chemistry of seawater. Although I am partial to food webs and climate change in the oceans, the implications of my work certainly don’t stop at plankton.
Preliminary data suggest OA will reduce the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in phytoplankton at the base of the ocean’s food chain, ultimately leaving other organisms, including humans, with chemically altered cuisine. With this alteration comes potential malnutrition for marine life and humans alike. In the oceans, prey might decrease in abundance and/or become less nutritious for predators, both scenarios leading to unbalanced ecosystems. Anything affecting the numbers of fish available for harvest is of concern for the global fisheries industry and its employees, threatening the economic wellbeing of millions. Additionally, seafood-dependent coastal populations could see increases in health issues related to fatty acid deficiencies including heart problems, depression, preterm births, and poor infant neural development.
The revelation of issues like these is just one example of why graduate research is a valuable resource for the public and decision makers when it comes to mediating the effects of climate change on the population.