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Concept: Antarctic


Long-term survival has been one of the most studied of the extraordinary physiological characteristics of cryptobiosis in micrometazoans such as nematodes, tardigrades and rotifers. In the available studies of long-term survival of micrometazoans, instances of survival have been the primary observation, and recovery conditions of animals or subsequent reproduction are generally not reported. We therefore documented recovery conditions and reproduction immediately following revival of tardigrades retrieved from a frozen moss sample collected in Antarctica in 1983 and stored at -20°C for 30.5 years. We recorded recovery of two individuals and development of a separate egg of the Antarctic tardigrade, Acutuncus antarcticus, providing the longest records of survival for tardigrades as animals or eggs. One of the two resuscitated individuals and the hatchling successfully reproduced repeatedly after their recovery from long-term cryptobiosis. This considerable extension of the known length of long-term survival of tardigrades recorded in our study is interpreted as being associated with the minimum oxidative damage likely to have resulted from storage under stable frozen conditions. The long recovery times of the revived tardigrades observed is suggestive of the requirement for repair of damage accrued over 30 years of cryptobiosis. Further more detailed studies will improve understanding of mechanisms and conditions underlying the long-term survival of cryptobiotic organisms.

Concepts: Arthropod, Cultural studies, Tardigrade, Trehalose, Antarctica, Cryptobiosis, Antarctic Circle, Antarctic


The Antarctic Peninsula has experienced a rapid increase in atmospheric temperature over the last 50 years. Whether or not marine organisms thriving in this cold stenothermal environment are able to cope with warming is of concern. Here, we present changes to the growth and shell characteristics of the ecologically important, small and short lived brooding bivalve Lissarca miliaris from Signy Island, Antarctica. Using material collected from the 1970’s to the present day, we show an increase in growth rate and adult shell deterioration accompanied by a decrease in offspring size, associated with an increase in annual average temperatures. Critical changes to the bivalve’s ecology seen today evidence the problem of a shift in baseline since the onset of warming recorded in Antarctica. These small bivalves are demonstrating ecophysiological responses to subtle warming that, provided warming continues, could soon surpass a physiological tipping point, adding to warming associated threats such as increased predatory pressure and ocean acidification.

Concepts: Biology, Ecology, Ocean, Antarctica, Calcite, Antarctic Circle, Baseline, Antarctic


In the context of global warming, the question of why Antarctic sea ice extent (SIE) has increased is one of the most fundamental unsolved mysteries. Although many mechanisms have been proposed, it is still unclear whether the increasing trend is anthropogenically originated or only caused by internal natural variability. In this study, we employ a new method where the underlying natural persistence in the Antarctic SIE can be correctly accounted for. We find that the Antarctic SIE is not simply short-term persistent as assumed in the standard significance analysis, but actually characterized by a combination of both short- and long-term persistence. By generating surrogate data with the same persistence properties, the SIE trends over Antarctica (as well as five sub-regions) are evaluated using Monte-Carlo simulations. It is found that the SIE trends over most sub-regions of Antarctica are not statistically significant. Only the SIE over Ross Sea has experienced a highly significant increasing trend (p = 0.008) which cannot be explained by natural variability. Influenced by the positive SIE trend over Ross Sea, the SIE over the entire Antarctica also increased over the past decades, but the trend is only at the edge of being significant (p = 0.034).

Concepts: Statistics, Statistical significance, Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Antarctic Circle, Antarctic, Antarctic Convergence, Unsolved Mysteries


It was thought that the Southern Ocean was relatively free of microplastic contamination; however, recent studies and citizen science projects in the Southern Ocean have reported microplastics in deep-sea sediments and surface waters. Here we reviewed available information on microplastics (including macroplastics as a source of microplastics) in the Southern Ocean. We estimated primary microplastic concentrations from personal care products and laundry, and identified potential sources and routes of transmission into the region. Estimates showed the levels of microplastic pollution released into the region from ships and scientific research stations were likely to be negligible at the scale of the Southern Ocean, but may be significant on a local scale. This was demonstrated by the detection of the first microplastics in shallow benthic sediments close to a number of research stations on King George Island. Furthermore, our predictions of primary microplastic concentrations from local sources were five orders of magnitude lower than levels reported in published sampling surveys (assuming an even dispersal at the ocean surface). Sea surface transfer from lower latitudes may contribute, at an as yet unknown level, to Southern Ocean plastic concentrations. Acknowledging the lack of data describing microplastic origins, concentrations, distribution and impacts in the Southern Ocean, we highlight the urgent need for research, and call for routine, standardised monitoring in the Antarctic marine system.

Concepts: Scientific method, Atlantic Ocean, Science, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Antarctic


For decades, the bio-duck sound has been recorded in the Southern Ocean, but the animal producing it has remained a mystery. Heard mainly during austral winter in the Southern Ocean, this ubiquitous sound has been recorded in Antarctic waters and contemporaneously off the Australian west coast. Here, we present conclusive evidence that the bio-duck sound is produced by Antarctic minke whales (Balaenoptera bonaerensis). We analysed data from multi-sensor acoustic recording tags that included intense bio-duck sounds as well as singular downsweeps that have previously been attributed to this species. This finding allows the interpretation of a wealth of long-term acoustic recordings for this previously acoustically concealed species, which will improve our understanding of the distribution, abundance and behaviour of Antarctic minke whales. This is critical information for a species that inhabits a difficult to access sea-ice environment that is changing rapidly in some regions and has been the subject of contentious lethal sampling efforts and ongoing international legal action.

Concepts: Australia, Antarctica, Humpback whale, Southern Ocean, Fin whale, Minke whale, Antarctic, Heard Island and McDonald Islands


The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, adopted under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity, provides the basis for taking effective action to curb biodiversity loss across the planet by 2020-an urgent imperative. Yet, Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, which encompass 10% of the planet’s surface, are excluded from assessments of progress against the Strategic Plan. The situation is a lost opportunity for biodiversity conservation globally. We provide such an assessment. Our evidence suggests, surprisingly, that for a region so remote and apparently pristine as the Antarctic, the biodiversity outlook is similar to that for the rest of the planet. Promisingly, however, much scope for remedial action exists.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Species, Ecology, Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Antarctic


We report the results from the first experimental study of the fate of whale and wood remains on the Antarctic seafloor. Using a baited free-vehicle lander design, we show that whale-falls in the Antarctic are heavily infested by at least two new species of bone-eating worm, Osedax antarcticus sp. nov. and Osedax deceptionensis sp. nov. In stark contrast, wood remains are remarkably well preserved with the absence of typical wood-eating fauna such as the xylophagainid bivalves. The combined whale-fall and wood-fall experiment provides support to the hypothesis that the Antarctic circumpolar current is a barrier to the larvae of deep-water species that are broadly distributed in other ocean basins. Since humans first started exploring the Antarctic, wood has been deposited on the seafloor in the form of shipwrecks and waste; our data suggest that this anthropogenic wood may be exceptionally well preserved. Alongside the new species descriptions, we conducted a comprehensive phylogenetic analyses of Osedax, suggesting the clade is most closely related to the frenulate tubeworms, not the vestimentiferans as previous reported.

Concepts: Pacific Ocean, Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Osedax, Antarctic, Drake Passage, Antarctic Circumpolar Current, Whale fall


Seabirds drastically transform the environmental conditions of the sites where they establish their breeding colonies via soil, sediment, and water eutrophication (hereafter termed ornitheutrophication). Here, we report worldwide amounts of total nitrogen (N) and total phosphorus (P) excreted by seabirds using an inventory of global seabird populations applied to a bioenergetics model. We estimate these fluxes to be 591 Gg N y-1 and 99 Gg P y-1, respectively, with the Antarctic and Southern coasts receiving the highest N and P inputs. We show that these inputs are of similar magnitude to others considered in global N and P cycles, with concentrations per unit of surface area in seabird colonies among the highest measured on the Earth’s surface. Finally, an important fraction of the total excreted N (72.5 Gg y-1) and P (21.8 Gg y-1) can be readily solubilized, increasing their short-term bioavailability in continental and coastal waters located near the seabird colonies.

Concepts: Agriculture, Eutrophication, Earth, Nitrogen, Seabird, Excretion, Southern Ocean, Antarctic


Recent scientific interest following the “discovery” of lithodid crabs around Antarctica has centred on a hypothesis that these crabs might be poised to invade the Antarctic shelf if the recent warming trend continues, potentially decimating its native fauna. This “invasion hypothesis” suggests that decapod crabs were driven out of Antarctica 40-15 million years ago and are only now returning as “warm” enough habitats become available. The hypothesis is based on a geographically and spatially poor fossil record of a different group of crabs (Brachyura), and examination of relatively few Recent lithodid samples from the Antarctic slope. In this paper, we examine the existing lithodid fossil record and present the distribution and biogeographic patterns derived from over 16,000 records of Recent Southern Hemisphere crabs and lobsters. Globally, the lithodid fossil record consists of only two known specimens, neither of which comes from the Antarctic. Recent records show that 22 species of crabs and lobsters have been reported from the Southern Ocean, with 12 species found south of 60°S. All are restricted to waters warmer than 0°C, with their Antarctic distribution limited to the areas of seafloor dominated by Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW). Currently, CDW extends further and shallower onto the West Antarctic shelf than the known distribution ranges of most lithodid species examined. Geological evidence suggests that West Antarctic shelf could have been available for colonisation during the last 9,000 years. Distribution patterns, species richness, and levels of endemism all suggest that, rather than becoming extinct and recently re-invading from outside Antarctica, the lithodid crabs have likely persisted, and even radiated, on or near to Antarctic slope. We conclude there is no evidence for a modern-day “crab invasion”. We recommend a repeated targeted lithodid sampling program along the West Antarctic shelf to fully test the validity of the “invasion hypothesis”.

Concepts: Crustacean, Pacific Ocean, Crab, Antarctica, Charles Darwin, Decapoda, Southern Ocean, Antarctic


Species Distribution Models (SDMs) combine information on the geographic occurrence of species with environmental layers to estimate distributional ranges and have been extensively implemented to answer a wide array of applied ecological questions. Unfortunately, most global datasets available to parameterize SDMs consist of spatially interpolated climate surfaces obtained from ground weather station data and have omitted the Antarctic continent, a landmass covering c. 20% of the Southern Hemisphere and increasingly showing biological effects of global change. Here we introduce MERRAclim, a global set of satellite-based bioclimatic variables including Antarctica for the first time. MERRAclim consists of three datasets of 19 bioclimatic variables that have been built for each of the last three decades (1980s, 1990s and 2000s) using hourly data of 2 m temperature and specific humidity. We provide MERRAclim at three spatial resolutions (10 arc-minutes, 5 arc-minutes and 2.5 arc-minutes). These reanalysed data are comparable to widely used datasets based on ground station interpolations, but allow extending their geographical reach and SDM building in previously uncovered regions of the globe.

Concepts: Biology, Geography, Climate, Data set, South America, Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Antarctic