Horseshoe crabs suffer with climate change

Aug. 30, 2010 at 8:00 PM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- Horseshoe crab population decline is being blamed on climate change and compared to similar declines at the end of the last Ice Age, U.S. scientists say.

The research indicates horseshoe crab numbers may continue to fall because of predicted climate change, a U.S. Geological Survey release said Monday.

The study confirmed recent significant population declines in all areas where horseshoe crabs occur along the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Horseshoe crabs are not true crabs, being more closely related to spiders and scorpions. The fishing industry, which uses them for bait, and the pharmaceutical industry, which collects the creatures' blood as a clotting agent, are also factors in the decline of populations, the study said.

Predicted climate change, with sea-level rise and water temperature fluctuations, could affect horseshoe populations such as happened after the last Ice Age, the release said.

"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," Tim King, a USGS scientist, said.

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