PLYMOUTH, England, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Antarctic krill, tiny creatures that are of major importance in marine food chains, are likely to be affected by warming ocean temperatures, researchers say.
Scientist with the British Antarctic Survey say the tiny crustaceans, a primary food source for many species of whales, seals, penguins and fish, are known to be sensitive to sea temperature.
Using statistical models, scientists with the survey working with researchers at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory assessed the likely impact of projected temperature increases in the Weddell Sea, Scotia Sea and Southern Drake Passage, all known for their abundance of krill.
An analysis of the results suggests ongoing ocean warming could reduce the area of suitable krill growth habitat by up to 20 percent, they reported.
Many critical environmental features necessary for krill -- temperature, acidity, sea ice and food availability -- could be affected by climate change, they said.
"Each year, growth of Antarctic krill in the Southern Ocean produces new material that weighs twice as much as all the sugar produced in the world," marine biologist Simeon Hill said. "Krill grow fastest in cold water and any warming can slow down or stop growth, reducing the food available for wildlife.
"Our research suggests that expected warming this century could severely reduce the area in which krill can successfully grow."