Entire species may have already been wiped off the face of the Earth because of climate change, scientists believe.
But due to a lack of research – caused by minimal funding from governments – it may be some time before it becomes known which species, a CSIRO marine biologist says.
On the back of a study that criticised the lack of funding oceanic research has received, Australian marine biologist Elvira Poloczanska said climate change could have already killed entire populations.
“I think it’s possible … we haven’t even discovered all the animals in the ocean,” Dr Poloczanska said.
She said that compared to land animals, marine creatures responded to changes in climate more quickly, but research into ocean life was limited.
University of Queensland marine scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said it would not be long until new species of animals would be discovered – after they have been wiped out.
“We know that they’re out there because we keep on discovering new species … that’s going to be one of the tragedies of our current pathway,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.
“It’s a horrific thing to think about – an undiscovered gem disappears before we find it.
“But it’s already happening.”
Dr Poloczanska said more money from governments should be put into researching the animals they were trying to protect from commercial fishing and whaling.
“Certain issues are (prioritised) higher than others … a lot of people are concerned about whaling and illegal fishing.”
But she said the cost of marine research was very high and it was much cheaper to study land-based animals than ocean-dwellers.
University of Adelaide marine biologist Bayden Russell said it was difficult for politicians to decide whether research into a particular animal was worthwhile.
“I don’t think it’s a conscious effort to ignore marine research,” Dr Russell said.
A paper co-authored by Dr Poloczanska, which appeared in the latest edition of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s journal Science, found only a small percentage of research mentioned in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report addressed the marine environment.
But of those mentions, 99 per cent contained evidence of direct intervention of climate change into marine habitats.