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Pteropods: Very Small and Very Important

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Pteropods are very small free-floating marine snails that play a very big part in oceanic ecosystems. Although tiny, these creatures are extremely important because they make up an important part of the oceanic food web. Scientists have seen the negative effects of ocean acidification on pteropods and are studying these organisms to better understand the problem. This slideshow is part of our Ocean Acidification Education series.

Pre-viewing Questions

  • What is a food web?
  • What is plankton?

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think might happen if pteropods disappeared from the ocean?
  • Why do you think it is important for scientists to study pteropods?
  • Ocean acidification is caused by excessive CO2 in the atmosphere. Make a list of five things you can do to create less CO2.

Extension Activity

  • Making Naked Eggs, Exploratorium. Dissolve an egg in vinegar to see the effect of an acidic solution on a calcium carbonate shell.
  • Ocean Acidification Lab, Ocean Carbon and Biogeochemistry Program. Hands-on classroom experiments for grades 5 through 12 with lesson plans, worksheets, and answer keys.
  • Research other marine organisms that are being negatively affected by ocean acidification. See if you can identify organisms that may thrive in a more acidic environment. Discuss how this might change the biodiversity of the ocean environment.

Food web image courtesy of Jerry Russell (www.jerryrussell.com). Click to enlarge.

Links to Learn More

  • Charismatic Microfauna, Dr. Gareth Lawson, research blog from Woods Hole Oceanic Institution. You can learn about oceanography and follow the exploits of an oceangoing expedition. It includes interesting images and video of pteropods.
  • Ecological Footprint Calculator, Islandwood. Calculate your ecological footprint and understand how the choices you make affect the size of your footprint on the earth. This is a simple survey that kids can complete themselves.

 Next Generation Science Standards

Performance Expectation: Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment. MS-ESS3-3

Disciplinary Core Idea: Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth’s environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things. ESS3.C Human Impacts on Earth’s Systems Crosscutting Concept: Cause and effect

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Category: Education, Video

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Jennifer Morton

About the Author ()

Jennifer Morton is a science education specialist at KCTS 9 Television in Seattle, WA. She started at KCTS 9 as Outreach Coordinator for the PBS series Bill Nye the Science Guy and has continued to be involved in outreach and education with KCTS over the past 10 years. She has a degree in Geology from the University of Vermont and a keen interest in science education. She also has a wasps’ nest hanging in her living room.
  • Antropoteuthis

    3000 points! hah

  • Bruno

    Question 3 (Crab) in Ocean Dynamics is not correct.
    It is not EXTREMELY fast… not at all.
    The decreasing in pH it is not as fast as it is saying in the option.

  • http://LiveSeaUrchins.com Jeff Crumley

    Although kelp may absorb CO2 that CO2 is quickly released back into the
    seawater as the kelp gets eaten by herbivores or reduced by bacteria.
    The shells of invertebrates however build up on the seafloor. When
    those biogenic carbonates are buried more than 10 centimeters they are
    sequestered for a very long time, sometimes millions of years. Red sea
    urchins are a major contributor to the sequestered carbon contained in
    carbonate sand deposits along our coast. Sea cucumbers also play an
    important part in the carbon cycle.(Schneider et al 2011) Their
    digestive processes dissolve the carbonate sands and help buffer against
    acidification. Sea otters reduce these invertebrates and effectively
    negate the long term carbon sink the invertebrates contribute to.

    There are countless other invertebrates likewise reduced to very low
    populations which sea otters effectively remove as contributors to the
    calcite/aragonite sink. Without a full accounting for the negative
    effects along with any potential positive interaction with kelp you are
    simply cherry picking the data. Otters effects on kelp in Monterey Bay
    south to Southern California are overwhelmed by waves and the physical
    dynamics of winter storms (Reed et al 2009) so kelp effects are local at
    best. (Kvitek et el 1989) documents the population crash experienced by
    invertebrates as sea otters colonize new area. The Kvitec study also
    documents the reduction in corallines as fleshy algae freed from
    herbivore grazing take over. In some locations coralline algae is
    reduced 100%. What is the volume of CO2 sequester by corallines and what
    is the long term fate of that CO2?

    So before you start
    contemplating how much money you might finagle from a carbon offset fund
    maybe you need to do more research on long term verses short term
    carbon sinks."

  • http://LiveSeaUrchins.com Jeff Crumley

    A geologist talking otters…. who paid you?

  • http://LiveSeaUrchins.com Jeff Crumley

    Oh, by the way… since your in Seattle, maybe you should take some lessons from Dr. Ray Hilborn… you know… worlds leading fisheries scientist at UW(?)

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