BUFFALO, N.Y. — In ecology, the diversity of species generally increases as you move toward the warmer latitudes of the tropics.
A new study explores a curious exception to this trend, examining why biodiversity rises in cold, temperate waters among warm-blooded marine predators such as whales, seals and penguins.
The research — published on Jan. 25 in the journal Science — presents a possible explanation for this unusual pattern.
“We show with data and theory that cold waters slow fishes’ and sharks’ metabolism, causing sluggish movement and giving mammals and birds important hunting and competitive advantages,” says John Grady, a postdoctoral research associate at the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center and former postdoctoral researcher at Michigan State University, who led the study. “Sharks are easier to avoid and fish are easier to catch when the water is cold.”
“As we conclude in the paper, ‘Overall, warm-bodied predators are favored where prey are slow, stupid and cold,’” says co-author Adam Wilson, PhD, a biogeographer at the University at Buffalo. Wilson is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography in the UB College of Arts and Sciences.
“We are living through an era of rapid environmental change and biodiversity loss,” Wilson adds. “Understanding the mechanisms that led to the current spatial distribution of biodiversity is critical to conserving it for future generations.”
The study was an international collaboration, with contributors from Michigan State University, Bryn Mawr College, the University of Arizona, the University of New Mexico, the University of Freiburg in Germany, Dalhousie University in Canada, the U.N. Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre in the United Kingdom, UB, the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center, and Washington University in St. Louis.