Increased ocean acidification–a result of rising carbon dioxide levels that cause global warming–can trigger a genetic response in some sea creatures that makes them smaller. In a new study, the genetic response was found to stunt the growth of shells in creatures like sea snails. Researchers claim this observation, made looking at sea snails in marine areas with high carbon dioxide concentrations, may explain why ocean creatures that survived previous “mass extinction events” were smaller.
The phenomenon of smaller creatures surviving is known as the “Lilliput effect”–after Jonathan Swift’s imaginary world in Gulliver’s Travels. Smaller shells are easier to maintain and repair. The new study revealing “the physiological advantages of dwarfing” in such high acidification areas appears in the May issue of Nature.