Benthic functionality under climate-induced environment changes offshore on the Antarctic Peninsula continental shelf

Marine ecosystems in Antarctica are thought to be highly vulnerable to aspects of dynamic global climate change, such as warming. In deep-water ecosystems, there has been little physico-chemical change in seawater there for millions of years. Thus, some benthic organisms are likely to include strong potential indicators of environmental changes and give early warnings of ecosystem vulnerability. In 2017 we sampled deep-water benthic assemblages across a continental shelf trough in outer Marguerite Bay, West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). This region is one of the hotspots of climate-related physical change on Earth in terms of seasonal sea ice loss. Video and images of the seabed were captured at 5 stations, each with 20 replicates. From these, we identified substratum types and biota to functional groups to assess variability in benthic composition and diversity. We also collected coincident environmental information on depth, temperature, salinity, oxygen and chlorophyll-a (using a CTD). Climax sessile suspension feeders were the most spatially dominant group, comprising 539 individuals (39% of total abundance) that included Porifera, Brachiopoda and erect Bryozoa. ST5, the shallowest station was functionally contrasting with other stations. This functional difference was also influenced by hard substrata of ST5, which is typically preferred by climax sessile suspension feeders. Depth (or an associated driver) and hard substrates were the most apparent key factor which functionally characterised the communities, shown by the abundance of climax sessile suspension feeders. Our study showed that non-invasive, low taxonomic skill requirement, functional group approach is not only valuable in providing functional perspective on environment status, but such groupings also proved to be sensitive to environmental variability.


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Authors: Nasir, Najib Mohd, Barnes, David K.A. ORCIDORCID record for David K.A. Barnes, Wan Hussin, Wan Mohd Rauhan

On this site: David Barnes
1 February, 2024
Journal of Environmental Research / 194
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