Impacts of deglaciation on benthic marine ecosystems in Antarctica

Lead Research Organisation: British Antarctic Survey
Department Name: Science Programmes


Environmental changes due to ice loss and deglaciation disturbances will significantly impact Antarctic ecosystems at different levels of biological complexity and spatio-temporal scales. At the lower level of biological organization, changes in key environmental parameters, such as temperature, salinity, productivity and turbidity, may have significant effects on important fitness traits such as growth, survival and fecundity of individuals. These effects may percolate to higher levels of organization such as population and community levels. Thus, lower growth, higher mortality rates and lower fecundity may affect the demographic dynamics of local populations. In addition, at a community scale, in a stressed environment some species may become locally extinct or they may be outcompeted by stronger competitors due to a decrease in individual performance. Alternatively, pioneer species with weak competition abilities would dominate highly perturbed sites. In this way, ice loss and disturbance from deglaciation may promote changes in species diversity and community structure at different directions and spatial scales, moving communities to alternate stable states. Over a longer time scale, all these ecological effects have consequences on an evolutionary scale in determining genetic diversity and gene flow, which may reduce the evolutionary potential of species. Under this scenario, this project aims to investigate the impacts of physical
disturbance arising from climate-warming induced deglaciation on benthic communities around the West Antarctic Peninsula. We adopt a multidisciplinary approach across nested scales from individual to ecosystem level, and from an ecological to evolutionary scale, evaluating genetic, physiological, population, community and ecosystem impacts of this perturbation. In addition, we use sclerochronology to develop biological proxies for reconstructing long-term and short-term environmental changes in Antarctica.

Planned Impact

The impact focus of this project will entail collaborative activities organised both in Chile and in the UK. The impact can be categorised as follows:

1. International collaboration. This project will enable the inception of a synergistic collaboration between the Chilean and British teams in Antarctic research. This interaction will allow the researchers to explore new approaches and use different methodological tools, not only for the study of Antarctic ecosystems but also to be used in general ecological problems.
2. Scientific production. We expect, during the three years of the research collaboration, to generate at least 6 ISI publications in high impact scientific journals in the areas of polar science, marine ecology, environmental science; many of these publications with be co-authored by researchers, students and postdocs from the different institutions.
3. Meeting presentations. At least 8 congress presentations (in national and at international meetings) will be presented; many of them with the participation of students and postdocs.
4. Seminars for postgraduate students. At least one seminar in each sponsoring institution with participation of researchers from both teams will be organized for postgraduate students and the academic staff preferentially during years 2 and 3. In Chile and in the UK, either Bangor or BAS, Cambridge. Seminars will be focused on the effects of global warming on Antarctic coastal ecosystems. The main
results of the project will be presented at Bangor University and the Universidad Catolica de la Ssma. Concepción. Responsible investigators from both teams will be in charge of the organization of seminars.
5.Public conferences. At least two conferences for general public and children will be organized, in each responsible institution, to focus on the effect of global warming on coastal ecosystems with reference to Antarctic susceptibility to this change. One of the conferences will be presented to the general public and the other one will be targeted towards primary level students. Responsible investigators from both teams will be in charge for the organization of these activities in their own countries.
6. Students and postdoctoral training. The project will support the theses of at least 3 undergraduate and postgraduate students and will favor 2 postdoctoral training for the three years.
7. Job opportunities. The project considers the inclusion of at least 3 technicians or research assistants for laboratory and fieldwork.


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Meredith MP (2018) Anatomy of a glacial meltwater discharge event in an Antarctic cove. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

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Moffat C (2018) Shelf-ocean exchange and hydrography west of the Antarctic Peninsula: a review. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

Description Benthic communities in rapidly deglaciating contexts identified for the first time. The potential of these deglaciating systems as natural sequesters of carbon as ice recedes recognised.
Exploitation Route see also
Sectors Education,Environment