The Littlest Canary in the Biggest Coal Mine

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Scientists, gathered at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Annual Meeting in Boston, are expressing increased concern over the growing threat to some of the smallest seas creatures in the world, including tiny snails sometimes called pteropods or "sea butterflies." These animals play a crucial role at the base of the marine food chain.  The problem is that the world's oceans are steadily growing more acidic as they absorb ever-increasing global carbon dioxide emissions and, as a result, animals like pteropods can have trouble growing the shells they need to survive.  Acidification is also responsible for contributing to the loss of coral reefs around the world.

Gretchen Hofmann, an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara says it best:

"These animals are not charismatic but they are talking to us just as much as penguins or polar bears," said Hofmann. "They are harbingers of change. It's possible by 2050 they may not be able to make a shell anymore. If we lose these organisms, the impact on the food chain will be catastrophic," she added.