Field of Science

Food Chains, Climate Change, & Penguins

Life is pretty simple in its basic concepts. Energy flows. You eat and get eaten passing energy from one to the next until ultimately all that solar energy captured by photosynthetic producers gets dissipated as heat, thus having delayed entropy, but not violated any laws in the process. Everything else gets recycled. In the specifics things get more complicated, but at the base of food chains you always find an autotroph, mostly green photosynthetic producers, but there are other types of bacterial producers too. All the solar energy used by the entire food chain enters at this point. So if something disrupts one step in the food chain, any organism further along the chain has a problem. In this particular instance some penguin populations are in decline, and it's probably due to a decrease in those small crustaceans called krill or the small fish that eat krill, but krill are not producers. Further down at the base of the food chain are phytoplankton, mostly green unicellular organisms that capture all the food for these ecosystems. High latitude ecosystems are very productive, seasonally because in these cold water areas nutrient laden deep cold heavy water more readily mixes with the brightly lit surface waters, so phytoplankton bloom seasonally. So how, perhaps by spreading out the seasonality, global warming is altering this pattern, and organisms way up the food chain suffer. How many such stories will have to be found before people begin to pay attention?

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