Can Miniature Relatives Of Crabs And Lobsters Slow Climate Change?

Can Miniature Relatives Of Crabs And Lobsters Slow Climate Change?

Researchers at the University of Exeter have put forward a compelling notion that tiny ocean-dwelling crustaceans, known as copepods, may hold the key to combating climate change. These copepods are a subcategory of zooplankton—organisms that drift with ocean currents—and are considered to be the most abundant multicellular organisms on our planet. The researchers posit that copepods possess the potential to possess quantities of carbon deep within the ocean. [1] [2] 

Recognising the profound implications of this discovery, the Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) BIO-Carbon programme has sanctioned financial support for three new groundbreaking studies. These studies aim to delve deeper into the role these microscopic yet powerful life forms play in carbon sequestration.

Professor Daniel Mayor shed light on the importance of marine microorganisms by stating, “The global ocean is absolutely teeming with living organisms, many of which are difficult or impossible to see with the naked eye.” [1] 

“But don’t be fooled by their size – these tiny but mighty life forms play a crucial role in regulating Earth’s climate by moving carbon out of the atmosphere and shunting it down into the deep ocean where it stays for hundreds of years or more.” [1] 

The forthcoming studies have a multi-pronged approach. First, they will assess the extent to which these small organisms affect the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Recent data suggests that prevailing climate models may underestimate the role of marine life, thus potentially skewing our understanding and forecasts of the ocean’s future carbon storage capabilities.

Another angle of investigation will be the influence of disease and viral infections on copepods and other zooplankton. This facet is particularly important, as it may bring new insights into how such conditions could alter the efficiency of the ocean’s carbon cycling process.

Dr Adrian Martin, affiliated with the National Oceanography Centre, emphasised the urgency of these studies. He urged, “With countries striving for net-zero carbon and debate ongoing over whether we can use the ocean to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the need to understand how the ocean stores carbon has never been stronger and we know that marine life plays an important role.” [1] 


  1. Morrison, A. (2023a). Drifting crustaceans could hold key to climate change. [online] News. Available at: [Accessed 19 Oct. 2023].
  2.   Azra, M.N., Noor, M.I.M., Eales, J., Sung, Y.Y. and Ghaffar, M.A. (2022). What evidence exists for the impact of climate change on the physiology and behaviour of important aquaculture marine crustacean species in Asia? A systematic map protocol. Environmental Evidence, 11(1). doi: