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Will Antarctic worms warm to changing climate?
Date:12/20/2011

Researchers at the University of Delaware are examining tiny worms that inhabit the frigid sea off Antarctica to learn not only how these organisms adapt to the severe cold, but how they will survive as ocean temperatures increase.

The National Science Foundation study, led by Adam Marsh, associate professor of marine biosciences in UD's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, also will compare the process of temperature adaptation in the polar worm, known scientifically as Capitella perarmata, with that of a close relative that inhabits temperate waters, Capitella teleta.

"By comparing these two marine species, we hope to assess how a polar environment shapes responses to environmental stress," says Marsh. "By better understanding how the environment can trigger genetic changes through the genes the polar worm turns on or 'expresses' we can gain insight into the potential impact of global warming on marine ecosystems."

Arriving in late August at McMurdo Station on Ross Island, Antarctica's largest outpost, Marsh and his research team undertook a series of dives in the freezing waters over the next two months to collect the polar sea worms, which are segmented like earthworms but belong to the class known as "polychaetes."

At a mere half-inch long and no thicker than the lead in a No. 2 pencil, Capitella perarmata would be a challenge to collect even on dry land. Because the worms feed on organic matter, the researchers have found the most abundant concentrations in the top layer of sediment from McMurdo Station's old sewage outfall. The divers collect buckets filled with sediment, from which the worms are sieved.

Just getting to the underwater site takes some doing, as UD doctoral student Annamarie Pasqualone points out. Pasqualone, who is from Medford, N.J., stayed on to complete the experiments in Crary Laboratory, McMurdo Station's science building. She will depart the frozen continent befor
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Contact: Tracey Bryant
tbryant@udel.edu
302-831-8185
University of Delaware
Source:Eurekalert  

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