LEETOWN, W. Va. A distinct decline in horseshoe crab numbers has occurred that parallels climate change associated with the end of the last Ice Age, according to a study that used genomics to assess historical trends in population sizes.
The new research also indicates that horseshoe crabs numbers may continue to decline in the future because of predicted climate change, said Tim King, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a lead author on the new study published in Molecular Ecology.
While the current decline in horseshoe crabs is attributed in great part to overharvest for fishing bait and for the pharmaceutical industry, the new research indicates that climate change also appears to have historically played a role in altering the numbers of successfully reproducing horseshoe crabs. More importantly, said King, predicted future climate change, with its accompanying sea-level rise and water temperature fluctuations, may well limit horseshoe crab distribution and interbreeding, resulting in distributional changes and localized and regional population declines, such as happened after the last Ice Age.
"Using genetic variation, we determined the trends between past and present population sizes of horseshoe crabs and found that a clear decline in the number of horseshoe crabs has occurred that parallels climate change associated with the end of the last Ice Age," said King.
The research substantiated recent significant declines in all areas where horseshoe crabs occur along the West Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, with the possible exception of a distinct population along the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico
These findings, combined with the results of a 2005 study by King and colleagues, have important implications for the welfare of wildlife that rely on nutrient-rich horseshoe crab eggs for food each spring.
For example, Atlantic loggerhead sea turtles, wh
|Contact: Catherine Puckett|
United States Geological Survey