Despite the many similarities shared between the Antarctic and Arctic regions, climate change effects them in significantly different ways according to new research from the University of Western Australia.

The research, co-authored by the Director of The University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute, Winthrop Professor Carlos Duarte, in conjunction with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), examined 700 different species across the two regions to examine how climate change impacts upon biodiversity of the regions.

The research found that the Arctic ecosystem, which has a higher proportion of predator species, is more susceptible to disturbances affecting species such as whales and polar bears higher up the food chain. According to the researchers, this phenomenon - called "trophic cascade" - represents a major threat to the ecosystem because disturbances among predator species are more likely to affect species at lower levels. 

The Antarctic food web, however, has a higher proportion of prey species and the effects of disturbances are most likely to affect species lower down the food chain. One example is evidence of a decrease of Antarctic krill caused by overfishing and climate change. 

"By applying complex network theory to understand the topology of polar food webs, we have found distinctive elements - which are also relative to non-polar food webs - that show polar food webs, particularly the Arctic one, are highly vulnerable to functional extinctions of key species, such as Antarctic krill in the Antarctic food web," Professor Duarte said. 

The study also shows that the Arctic food web has more omnivorous species than the Antarctic (80.71% vs. 41.13%). The loss of these species makes the Arctic more susceptible to invasion by other species.