Biodiversity signature of the Last Glacial Maximum at South Georgia, Southern Ocean

Aim High-latitude biodiversity distributions can preserve signals of the timing and geography of past glaciations, and as such ground truth ice-sheet models. Discrete polar archipelagos offer the fewest confounding factors for testing historic ice position records in extant biodiversity. At South Georgia, two competing geological hypotheses suggest that either the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) ice was extensive, nearly covering the continental shelf (H1 Big ice) or restricted to the inner fjords (H2 Little ice). We examined the past configuration of the South Georgia ice cap using seabed biodiversity. Location South Georgia, Southern Ocean. Methods We used a bespoke camera lander (SUCS) and Agassiz trawl deployments across ‘big ice’ and ‘little ice’ hypothesized positions of LGM grounded ice around the South Georgia continental shelf. We investigated faunal assemblage structure and richness, especially of brooders, and modelled low dispersal taxa, for example, those with limited pelagic larvae (bryozoans and sponges). Results We found a striking ‘line’ of major richness discontinuity, with significantly higher richness, especially of brooders and low dispersal model taxa, mainly conforming to the ‘big ice’ hypothesized position. What few bryozoans and sponges occurred inside this line were a subset of those outside. Main conclusions Benthic biodiversity is consistent with extensive LGM grounded ice advancing to near the shelf break in most, but not all locations around South Georgia's shelf, for example, the eastern shelf area. We suggest that most of the shelf is still undergoing recolonization from when grounded ice covered the shelf ~20 kyr ago. Our alternative hypothesis of LGM ice position, H3 ‘Limited-Extensive ice’, best fitted our data and is easily further testable, but if verified, shows that shelf recolonization following glaciation is much slower than previously thought. This contrasts with surprisingly rapid colonization of continental shelves after ice-shelf collapses, but these are not grounded, which may be crucial to polar recolonization rates.


Publication status:
Authors: Barnes, David K.A. ORCIDORCID record for David K.A. Barnes, Sands, Chester J. ORCIDORCID record for Chester J. Sands, Hogg, Oliver T., Robinson, Ben J.O. ORCIDORCID record for Ben J.O. Robinson, Downey, Rachel V., Smith, James A. ORCIDORCID record for James A. Smith

On this site: Ben Robinson, Chester Sands, David Barnes, James Smith, Oliver Hogg
1 December, 2016
Journal of Biogeography / 43
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