Climate change and invasibility of the Antarctic benthos
Benthic communities living in shallow-shelf habitats in Antarctica (<100-m depth) are archaic in structure and function compared to shallow-water communities elsewhere. Modern predators, including fast-moving, durophagous (skeleton-crushing) bony fish, sharks, and crabs, are rare or absent; slow-moving invertebrates are generally the top predators; and epifaunal suspension feeders dominate many soft-substratum communities. Cooling temperatures beginning in the late Eocene excluded durophagous predators, ultimately resulting in the endemic living fauna and its unique food-web structure. Although the Southern Ocean is oceanographically isolated, the barriers to biological invasion are primarily physiological rather than geographic. Cold temperatures impose limits to performance that exclude modern predators. Global warming is now removing those physiological barriers, and crabs are reinvading Antarctica. As sea temperatures continue to rise, the invasion of durophagous predators will modernize the shelf benthos and erode the indigenous character of marine life in Antarctica.
Authors: Aronson, Richard B., Thatje, Sven, Clarke, Andrew, Peck, Lloyd S., Blake, Daniel B., Wilga, Cheryl D., Seibel, Brad A.