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They're lovingly called 'sea squirts', but certain marine soft-bodied animals, or tunicates, could cause a giant-sized problem in cold water areas like the Gulf of Maine. New research from the University of New Hampshire shows that with a water temperature increase of just two degrees Celsius (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) predicted in the coming years, the invasive tunicate species Botrylloides violaceus will be able to double their reproduction because warmer water allows them a longer growing season. This seemingly modest temperature increase could cause the sea squirts to take up more space on natural and artificial places where organisms grow (like the ocean floor or fishing lines), therefore crowding out native species and potentially creating more problems for the aquaculture and fishing industries who work along the northern New England coast.
"In the past decade, we've seen their populations spread more northeastward to places like Eastport, Maine where there are now much larger colonies than before and these colonies have also spread to natural substrates, like rocks and seaweed," said Jennifer Dijkstra, a research assistant professor in the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering at UNH's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping and lead author on this research. "So our first question was, what changed during that time period to cause this invasive species to take hold and spread? We know from our research, and others, that seasonal water temperatures have increased during that time, so we started there. Then we wanted to see if that change might drive future spread of this specific tunicate species."
Research - Maximum - Water - Temperatures - Model
This first-of-its-kind research incorporates current and predicted maximum and seasonal water temperatures in the model to estimate future reproductive rates of B. violaceus. The model shows B. violaceus will be able to reproduce three times per year in Salem Harbor, Mass., twice a year in...
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