Until recently, sea otters have been discovered to play an important role in shaping diversity in the eelgrass populations. Postdoctorate student Erin Foster from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada found after collecting eelgrass samples from fifteen locations—some having been home to sea otters for over 30 years—that those with otters experienced 30% higher genetic diversity. Disruption caused when otters dig up the soil helped to promote diversity when eelgrass reproduce. “This is a whole new lens,” Brent Hughes says, a biologist from Sonoma State University. “Sea otters are restructuring the genetics of the whole system.” In turn, healthy eelgrass populations pull carbon from the ocean and atmosphere, as well as protect coastlines from rising sea levels and storm surges.

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