In the so-called food chain, these small creatures form an all-important link. Without them, whales, albatrosses, penguins, and seals will suffer. And if whales, albatrosses, penguins, and seals suffer, it's a sure bet that others animals will be affected, too.
The creature in question is krill, the little shrimp that floats in waters all over the globe. In the Antarctic, however, the krill population appears to be diminishing. At least that's what the British Antarctic Survey reports after studying the region for more than twenty years.
The theory is that krill respond to changes in the air temperature over the Antarctic. As the air temperature has risen during the last half-century, krill numbers have fallen. Yet it remains to be seen whether there's a direct correlation between the two. Also, scientists cannot say for certain that the changes signify a catastrophic trend or are merely part of a long cyclical process that will eventually reverse itself.
What is clear is that monitoring of the Antarctic's krill must continue. And perhaps limits on the fishing of krill will have to be established. But Keith Reid of the British Antarctic Survey believes limits alone will not suffice. As he explained to a BBC reporter recently, "Rather than looking at managing krill just on its own, we have to look at how it's linked into the components of the ecosystem."
In other words, people should refrain from solving only the most obvious problem. If one link in the chain is weak, there's a chance that whatever weakened it will have weakened other links as well.