It's like a scene out of a sci-fi movie--thousands, possibly millions, of king crabs are marching through icy, deep-sea waters and up the Antarctic slope. We've had invasions of ants, stinkbugs and (most recently) bedbugs, but these critters are swarming the beaches of Antarctica, a place where they haven't been seen for hundreds, thousands--or even millions--of years.
As the Antarctic glaciers melt, the crabs hit the beach. Science Daily quotes biologist James McClintock as saying, "They are coming from the deep, somewhere between 6,000 to 9,000 feet down." He and other marine researchers are sounding the alarm because the vulnerable ecosystem of the continent could be wiped out. Antarctica is akin to the Amazon rainforest, when it comes to the discovery of new drugs. Sea squirts, for example, produce an agent that fights skin cancer. If the crabs eat them, it could bring McClintock's research with that organism to a halt. He is also investigating a compound that combats skin cancer and one to treat flu, both of which are being explored by drug companies. "The whole ecosystem could change," McClintock says. "And this is just one example of a species expanding its range into a new territory. There will certainly be more as the climate warms up." A leech with enormous teeth has just been discovered in South Africa, but thank goodness these critters are not invading yet.
Climate change may mean the end of rain forests throughout the world, which is a shame because so many of our modern drugs were discovered in them. Scientists are rushing to learn as much about them as possible before they are gone. It's not just the cold parts of the world that are in danger: For more than two hundred years, the question of why there are more species in the tropics has been a biological enigma. A particularly perplexing aspect is why so many species live together in a small area in the tropics, especially at some sites in the rainforests of the Amazon Basin in South America. The high species richness of organisms such as trees, birds and insects is amazing--and could all be lost.
Researcher John J. Wiens says, "Treefrogs also offer a striking example of the high local-scale biodiversity in the Amazon. At some sites in the Amazon rainforest, there are more treefrog species in a small area than there are across all of North America or Europe. They can make up nearly half of all amphibian species in some rainforest sites. "The incredible biodiversity of amphibians in some sites in the Amazon Basin took more than 50 million years to develop. If the Amazon rainforests are destroyed and the amphibian species are driven to extinction by human activities in the next few decades, it may take tens of millions of years for this incredible level of biodiversity to ever return."
In 1998, Whitley Strieber had never heard of climate change, but the Master of the Key burst into his hotel room in Toronto and told him all about it (The new, UNCENSORED edition of The Key, with a foreword that talks about how many of his statements later turned out to be true, is in bookstores NOW).