Sea otters as “global warming fighters”?

24 September 2012

A new study published in the scientific journal Frontiers of Ecology and the Environment, just concluded that sea otters have a strong influence on the Carbon cycle and CO2 storage. The study is based on a new analysis of 40 years data collected across North America, from Vancouver Island to the western edge of Alaska's Aleutian Islands.

Sea otters prey on urchins, which eat greenhouse gas-absorbing kelp forest; sea otters thus encourage these plants to flourish. The study reveals a kelp forest “helped” by sea otters can absorb 12 times the amount absorbed in the absence of sea otters.

However, sea otters are not “global warming fighters”; the increase of CO2 absorption induced by otters is unlikely to have a big effect on global warming. But this proves that predators can severely modify the carbon cycling in an ecosystem. The general process in which the interactions between species are linked to the carbon cycle can thus be very important as we are looking for ways to reduce climate change.