Climate change sees giant crabs invade the Antarctic

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King crabs up to a metre across have invaded deep waters on the edge of Antarctica, probably because of climate warming, and are playing havoc with the seabed wildlife, according to a new report.

More than a million of the crabs are thought to have colonised the Palmer Deep, a basin more than 4,300ft down off the Antarctic Peninsula, where they are wiping out species such as sea cucumbers, sea urchins and starfish.

It is thought that rapidly rising temperatures have enabled the crabs to survive in the area, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of The Royal Society B.

A team led by Dr Craig Smith from the University of Hawaii at Manoa found the crabs using a remotely operated submersible. The creatures are laying waste to the seabed landscape, the study reports, puncturing and gashing the sediment with the tips of their long legs. "This is likely to alter sediment processes, such as the rate at which organic matter is buried, which will affect the diversity of animal communities living in the sediments," Dr Smith said.

The scientists report that the number of species in areas colonised by the crabs is a quarter of that in areas that have escaped the invasion.

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