Changing biodiversity

Changing biodiversity

Start date
1 July, 2012

Long-term science

How will biodiversity change in future years?

West Antarctic seas are rapidly changing and one of the big questions is how marine biodiversity will respond to climate change. This is one of the BAS Grand Challenges: Polar Change. To enable us to tackle this question, we first need to establish comprehensive baseline data on how many species are found in the shallow waters around the Rothera Research Station, where they are and how they vary with habitat (e.g. soft sediments versus rocks) and season.

BAS Marine Assistant Terri Souster, diving close to Rothera Rothera Point in Antarctica
BAS Marine Assistant Terri Souster, diving close to Rothera Rothera Point in Antarctica

We have implemented a series of long term biodiversity monitoring experiments and studies at Rothera which include:

  • characterisation of soft sediments
  • characterisation of hard sediments
  • ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) studies

All animals sampled have been grouped into morphologically identical “species” with voucher specimens maintained at Rothera. Any excess material has been sent for taxonomic analysis with collaborators and subjected to DNA barcoding. A reference database is in preparation, but interim data will be available from the Polar Data Centre.

Our aim is to:

understand how marine biodiversity will respond to climate change and to do this we need to conduct baseline studies and characterise the biodiversity at different depths and in different habitats. We are doing this via an on-going series of projects which are listed chronologically below.

Soft sediments

A home-made suction sampling device was used to extract sediment from ¼ M2 quadrats from three sites in each of South Cove and Hangar Cove. Seasonal sampling was carried out along across 2 winters and two summers. In one set of seasonal experiments, 30ml sediment cores were also taken to enable the metagenomic analysis of meiofauna and microbial communities. Marine Biologist (2012 – 2015): Belinda Vause

Hard sediments

In 1998 a biodiversity survey was carried out on a transect running south from Cheshire Island, which mainly comprised hard rock substrata. A key element of this project is to compare current biodiversity with that recorded 15 years ago to investigate patterns of long term change in community structure. There will also be a seasonal comparison. Furthermore, understanding the dietary habits of marine invertebrates is central to studies of food webs, ecological processes and energy budgets. Measurement of metabolic rates and molecular analysis of gut contents from a range of marine invertebrates will also be conducted to allow the flow of energy within the marine ecosystem to be investigated. Marine Biologist (2014 – 2016): Terri Souster (PhD student registered with the Open University).

Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) surveys

To date our collections have been restricted to diver collected material working at depths down to 25M. To expand the depth range we have instigated an ROV trial which will initially revisit the hard sediment transects to validate the capabilities and limitations of using an ROV. All analyses will be conducted on macrofauna filmed from video feeds. Further surveys at more remote locations, not often visited by divers, will be conducted after this initial trial. Marine Biologist (2015 – 2017): Ben Robinson.

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Rothera Research Station

The largest British Antarctic facility is a centre for biological research and a hub for supporting deep-field science.