Thomas Robinson | February 2nd, 2021
Scientists are concerned that a Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) deficiency is contributing to the decline of wildlife populations across multiple ecosystems in the northern hemisphere.
In 2016, scientists hypothesized that the decline of animal populations across multiple ecosystems may be linked to thiamine deficiency since the declines are occurring faster than expected, and thiamine deficiencies have been measured around the world. Thiamine deficiency has been known to negatively influence fish populations since 1995, and bird populations have been shown to be similarly affected. Scientists in the 2016 study highlighted a staggering decline in animal populations such as the global decline of seabird populations by 70% from 1950 to 2010, and the decline of marine vertebrates by 50% from 1970 to 2012.
Unfortunately, it seems that humans are likely to blame as climate change is thought to have made thiamine less available to animals higher up on the trophic level. The current hypothesis is that warming oceans have negatively influenced the populations of both microorganisms and smaller fish that either produce or are rich in the vitamin making them less available to animals higher up on the food chain. Not only is less thiamine likely to reach the top of the trophic level, more thiaminase, the enzyme used to consume thiamine, is likely being transferred from the populations of fish or microorganisms that take over from older populations. Thiaminase is a concern because when predators eat prey high in thiaminase, they can experience similar thiamine deficiencies as the enzyme breaks down thiamine in their bodies.
Thiamine is an essential nutrient for life as it is responsible for cellular energy production and cellular development. Our supply of the vitamin comes from our diet and deficiencies in thiamine can result in weight loss, muscle weakness, and wasting. For many animals, deficiency results in sublethal effects, however, these sublethal effects can be just as devastating as lethal effects on the population, especially since they are easily missed over long periods of time.
Our unknowing changes to the environment have severe consequences for global ecosystems that we still don’t fully understand. While we work to gain a better understanding of how our decisions influence global populations, an emphasis must be placed on what implications future development and technology may have on already stressed ecosystems.