Charlotte Austin, researcher from University of Canterbury tested how the emerald rock fish adapted to warmer waters after being removed from its minus 1.9 degree centigrade habitat below the Antarctic ice.

Austin stated that the fish were able to completely recover from short exposures to temperatures up to 6 degrees centigrade, but long periods of time at 4 degrees centigrade was fatal.

However, if the temperature increase was gradual, all fish tested survived the 56 days of the experiment at 3 degrees centigrade and were able to successfully digest food, a vital physiological process for survival, she added.

The results provide some optimism for the survival of this species if ocean temperature in Antarctic does not exceed the predicted increase of 2 degrees centigrade over the next century.

Austin said Antarctic cod dominated the Southern Ocean and were vital to the food-web and ecosystem due to a wide range of predators, including whales, orca, seals, penguins and other fish.

Several species have been targeted by humans for commercial fisheries and the sustainability of the largest cod species, the Antarctic toothfish, is a subject of contention.

The adult emerald rock cod is of a length of 170 mm in, while the Antarctic tooth fish can exceed 2 meters when fully grown.

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