Good news is rare when it comes to our oceans these days, but thankfully, cephalopods – a group of marine animals that includes octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish – seem to be thriving against all hope.
Not just getting by – they have been on the rise over the past six decades, according to a recent study featured in the journal Current Biology. “It is certainly nice to see something going up,” said lead author Zoë Doubleday, a marine biologist at the University of Adelaide.
But is it possible that this abundance could also have downsides?
Michael Vecchione, head of the NOAA Fisheries National Systematics Laboratory, who was not involved in the new study, said that this is good news – from a squid’s perspective. However, from a fish’s perspective, this might bring trouble.
Why? Because cephalopods “are really voracious predators,” explained Dr. Vecchione; they’re growth and metabolic rate are both really high, resulting in a tremendous requirement for food.
Naturally, they eat a lot of stuff. With so many squids out there eating juvenile fishes, the fish populations could take longer to recover.
But in the food chain, cephalopods are somewhere in the middle, food sources for other larger marine animals. This means that balance could eventually return to the food chain.
It’s amazing how nature, left in its natural conditions, has a way of self-regulating. When the abundance of cephalopods reaches saturation – there isn’t enough food to support their numbers – they might self-regulate by eating each other because they’re highly cannibalistic, explains Doubleday.
But what exactly caused the cephalopods to multiply so? The reason is rather fascinating, as experts compare this group of marine animals with weeds. They’re like the weeds of the sea, and just like the weeds in the garden, the first things that react to change or disturbance.
They grow quickly, can adapt quickly to new environmental conditions, and have short lifespans. These attributes are what encourages cephalopods to thrive in the constantly changing oceans.
Scientists are still unsure what exactly caused these changing conditions, but it’s most likely a mix of rising water temperatures, overfishing, and other effects of climate change. Altogether, they’re opening doors for and incredible cephalopod population growth.
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