Geographic isolation and physiological mechanisms underpinning species distributions at the range limit hotspot of South Georgia
In order to allocate quotas for sustainable harvests, that account for climate warming, it is important to incorporate species vulnerabilities that will underlie likely changes in population dynamics. Hotspots, regions with rapidly changing climate, are important locations for rapid advances in mechanistic understanding of the factors driving these changes, particularly if they coincide with regions with a high incidence of range limits, such as the sub-Antarctic Island of South Georgia. This archipelago is at the Northern limit of the Southern Ocean and therefore the northern distribution limit for many Southern Ocean shallow water marine species, which are amongst the most sensitive fauna to increasing temperature. At range limits species may either be living close to their physiological limits, or they may have more resistant phenotypes. In case studies, the northern range limit population of the gastropod limpet, Nacella concinna, has greater physiological plasticity at South Georgia than those from further south, allowing them to cope better with the warmer and more variable seasonal temperatures. Bivalve species, however, alter their depth distributions at South Georgia, to avoid the warmer water masses, indicating that they may not be able to cope with the warmer temperatures. Mackerel icefish, Champsocephalus gunnari, has a unique Antarctic trait, the loss of haemoglobin. A combination of temperature driven change in food web structure, and this extreme physiological cold adaptation, may explain why rapid warming at its northern range limit of South Georgia, has prevented stocks fully recovering from over fishing in the 1980s, despite highly conservative management strategies.
Authors: Morley, S. A., Belchier, M., Sands, C., Barnes, D. K. A., Peck, L. S.