Spatial and temporal operation of the Scotia Sea ecosystem: a review of large-scale links in a krill centred food web
The Scotia Sea ecosystem is a major component of the circumpolar Southern Ocean system, where productivity and predator demand for prey are high. The eastward-flowing Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) and waters from the Weddell–Scotia Confluence dominate the physics of the Scotia Sea, leading to a strong advective flow, intense eddy activity and mixing. There is also strong seasonality, manifest by the changing irradiance and sea ice cover, which leads to shorter summers in the south. Summer phytoplankton blooms, which at times can cover an area of more than 0.5 million km2, probably result from the mixing of micronutrients into surface waters through the flow of the ACC over the Scotia Arc. This production is consumed by a range of species including Antarctic krill, which are the major prey item of large seabird and marine mammal populations. The flow of the ACC is steered north by the Scotia Arc, pushing polar water to lower latitudes, carrying with it krill during spring and summer, which subsidize food webs around South Georgia and the northern Scotia Arc. There is also marked interannual variability in winter sea ice distribution and sea surface temperatures that is linked to southern hemisphere-scale climate processes such as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation. This variation affects regional primary and secondary production and influences biogeochemical cycles. It also affects krill population dynamics and dispersal, which in turn impacts higher trophic level predator foraging, breeding performance and population dynamics. The ecosystem has also been highly perturbed as a result of harvesting over the last two centuries and significant ecological changes have also occurred in response to rapid regional warming during the second half of the twentieth century. This combination of historical perturbation and rapid regional change highlights that the Scotia Sea ecosystem is likely to show significant change over the next two to three decades, which may result in major ecological shifts.