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Concept: Southern Ocean


Hydrothermal vents in the Southern Ocean are the physiologically most isolated chemosynthetic environments known. Here, we describe Kiwa tyleri sp. nov., the first species of yeti crab known from the Southern Ocean. Kiwa tyleri belongs to the family Kiwaidae and is the visually dominant macrofauna of two known vent sites situated on the northern and southern segments of the East Scotia Ridge (ESR). The species is known to depend on primary productivity by chemosynthetic bacteria and resides at the warm-eurythermal vent environment for most of its life; its short-range distribution away from vents (few metres) is physiologically constrained by the stable, cold waters of the surrounding Southern Ocean. Kiwa tylerihas been shown to present differential life history adaptations in response to this contrasting thermal environment. Morphological adaptations specific to life in warm-eurythermal waters, as found on - or in close proximity of - vent chimneys, are discussed in comparison with adaptations seen in the other two known members of the family (K. hirsuta, K. puravida), which show a preference for low temperature chemosynthetic environments.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Hydrothermal vent, Anomura, Southern Ocean, Chemosynthesis, Kiwa hirsuta, Squat lobster, Kiwa


The contribution of climate change to shifts in a species' geographic distribution is a critical and often unresolved ecological question. Climate change in Antarctica is asymmetric, with cooling in parts of the continent and warming along the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). The Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) is a circumpolar meso-predator exposed to the full range of Antarctic climate and is undergoing dramatic population shifts coincident with climate change. We used true presence-absence data on Adélie penguin breeding colonies to estimate past and future changes in habitat suitability during the chick-rearing period based on historic satellite observations and future climate model projections. During the contemporary period, declining Adélie penguin populations experienced more years with warm sea surface temperature compared to populations that are increasing. Based on this relationship, we project that one-third of current Adélie penguin colonies, representing ~20% of their current population, may be in decline by 2060. However, climate model projections suggest refugia may exist in continental Antarctica beyond 2099, buffering species-wide declines. Climate change impacts on penguins in the Antarctic will likely be highly site specific based on regional climate trends, and a southward contraction in the range of Adélie penguins is likely over the next century.

Concepts: Climate, Climate change, Penguin, Antarctica, Sea surface temperature, Southern Ocean, Pygoscelis, Antarctic Peninsula


Harvested to perilously low numbers by commercial whaling during the past century, the large scale response of Antarctic blue whales Balaenoptera musculus intermedia to environmental variability is poorly understood. This study uses acoustic data collected from 586 sonobuoys deployed in the austral summers of 1997 through 2009, south of 38°S, coupled with visual observations of blue whales during the IWC SOWER line-transect surveys. The characteristic Z-call and D-call of Antarctic blue whales were detected using an automated detection template and visual verification method. Using a random forest model, we showed the environmental preferences pattern, spatial occurrence and acoustic behaviour of Antarctic blue whales. Distance to the southern boundary of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (SBACC), latitude and distance from the nearest Antarctic shores were the main geographic predictors of blue whale call occurrence. Satellite-derived sea surface height, sea surface temperature, and productivity (chlorophyll-a) were the most important environmental predictors of blue whale call occurrence. Call rates of D-calls were strongly predicted by the location of the SBACC, latitude and visually detected number of whales in an area while call rates of Z-call were predicted by the SBACC, latitude and longitude. Satellite-derived sea surface height, wind stress, wind direction, water depth, sea surface temperatures, chlorophyll-a and wind speed were important environmental predictors of blue whale call rates in the Southern Ocean. Blue whale call occurrence and call rates varied significantly in response to inter-annual and long term variability of those environmental predictors. Our results identify the response of Antarctic blue whales to inter-annual variability in environmental conditions and highlighted potential suitable habitats for this population. Such emerging knowledge about the acoustic behaviour, environmental and habitat preferences of Antarctic blue whales is important in improving the management and conservation of this highly depleted species.

Concepts: Antarctica, Sea surface temperature, Humpback whale, Southern Ocean, Whale song, Fin whale, Blue whale, Antarctic Circumpolar Current


In recent decades, many marine populations have experienced major declines in abundance, but we still know little about where management interventions may help protect the highest levels of marine biodiversity. We used modeled spatial distribution data for nearly 12,500 species to quantify global patterns of species richness and two measures of endemism. By combining these data with spatial information on cumulative human impacts, we identified priority areas where marine biodiversity is most and least impacted by human activities, both within Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ). Our analyses highlighted places that are both accepted priorities for marine conservation like the Coral Triangle, as well as less well-known locations in the southwest Indian Ocean, western Pacific Ocean, Arctic and Antarctic Oceans, and within semi-enclosed seas like the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas. Within highly impacted priority areas, climate and fishing were the biggest stressors. Although new priorities may arise as we continue to improve marine species range datasets, results from this work are an essential first step in guiding limited resources to regions where investment could best sustain marine biodiversity.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Australia, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Southern Ocean


Using top predators as sentinels of the marine environment, Hg contamination was investigated within the large subantarctic seabird community of Kerguelen Islands, a remote area from the poorly known Southern Indian Ocean. Chicks of 21 sympatric seabirds presented a wide range of Hg concentrations, with the highest contaminated species containing ∼102 times more feather Hg than the less contaminated species. Hence, Kerguelen seabirds encompass the whole range of chick feather Hg values that were previously collected worldwide in poorly industrialized localities. Using stable isotopes, the effects of foraging habitats (reflected by δ(13)C) and trophic positions (reflected by δ(15)N) on Hg concentrations were investigated. Species-related Hg variations were highly and positively linked to feather δ(15)N values, thus highlighting the occurrence of efficient Hg biomagnification processes within subantarctic marine trophic webs. By contrast, Hg contamination overall correlated poorly with feeding habitats, because of the pooling of species foraging within different isotopic gradients corresponding to distinct seabird habitats (benthic, pelagic, neritic and oceanic). However, when focusing on oceanic seabirds, Hg concentration was related to feather δ(13)C values, with species feeding in colder waters (lower δ(13)C values) south of Kerguelen Islands being less prone to be contaminated than species feeding in northern warmer waters (higher δ(13)C values). Within the context of continuous increase in global Hg emissions, Kerguelen Islands that are located far away from anthropogenic sources can be considered as an ideal study site to monitor the temporal trend of global Hg contamination. The present work helps selecting some seabird species as sentinels of environmental pollution according to their high Hg concentrations and their contrasted foraging ecology.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Bird, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Southern Ocean, Subantarctic, Kerguelen Islands


A comparative thermal tolerance study was undertaken on two sister species of Euphausiids (Antarctic krills) Euphausia superba and Euphausia crystallorophias. Both are essential components of the Southern Ocean ecosystem, but occupy distinct environmental geographical locations with slightly different temperature regimes. They therefore provide a useful model system for the investigation of adaptations to thermal tolerance.

Concepts: Climate, Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Krill, Antarctic krill, Euphausia, Euphausia crystallorophias


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


Food webs in high-latitude oceans are dominated by relatively few species. Future ocean and sea-ice changes affecting the distribution of such species will impact the structure and functioning of whole ecosystems. Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) is a key species in Southern Ocean food webs, but there is little understanding of the factors influencing its success throughout much of the ocean. The capacity of a habitat to maintain growth will be crucial and here we use an empirical relationship of growth rate to assess seasonal spatial variability. Over much of the ocean, potential for growth is limited, with three restricted oceanic regions where seasonal conditions permit high growth rates, and only a few areas around the Scotia Sea and Antarctic Peninsula suitable for growth of the largest krill (>60 mm). Our study demonstrates that projections of impacts of future change need to account for spatial and seasonal variability of key ecological processes within ocean ecosystems.

Concepts: Climate, Atlantic Ocean, Ocean, Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Krill, Antarctic krill, Euphausia


Strong heat loss and brine release during sea ice formation in coastal polynyas act to cool and salinify waters on the Antarctic continental shelf. Polynya activity thus both limits the ocean heat flux to the Antarctic Ice Sheet and promotes formation of Dense Shelf Water (DSW), the precursor to Antarctic Bottom Water. However, despite the presence of strong polynyas, DSW is not formed on the Sabrina Coast in East Antarctica and in the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica. Using a simple ocean model driven by observed forcing, we show that freshwater input from basal melt of ice shelves partially offsets the salt flux by sea ice formation in polynyas found in both regions, preventing full-depth convection and formation of DSW. In the absence of deep convection, warm water that reaches the continental shelf in the bottom layer does not lose much heat to the atmosphere and is thus available to drive the rapid basal melt observed at the Totten Ice Shelf on the Sabrina Coast and at the Dotson and Getz ice shelves in the Amundsen Sea. Our results suggest that increased glacial meltwater input in a warming climate will both reduce Antarctic Bottom Water formation and trigger increased mass loss from the Antarctic Ice Sheet, with consequences for the global overturning circulation and sea level rise.

Concepts: Water, Ice sheet, Antarctica, Ice shelf, Glaciology, West Antarctic Ice Sheet, Southern Ocean, Sea ice


Closely related organisms with transoceanic distributions have long been the focus of historical biogeography, prompting the question of whether long-distance dispersal, or tectonic-driven vicariance shaped their current distribution. Regarding the Southern Hemisphere continents, this question deals with the break-up of the Gondwanan landmass, which has also affected global wind and oceanic current patterns since the Miocene. With the advent of phylogenetic node age estimation and parametric bioinformatic advances, researchers have been able to disentangle historical evolutionary processes of taxa with greater accuracy. In this study, we used the coastal spider genus Amaurobioides to investigate the historical biogeographical and evolutionary processes that shaped the modern-day distribution of species of this exceptional genus of spiders. As the only genus of the subfamily Amaurobioidinae found on three Southern Hemisphere continents, its distribution is well-suited to study in the context of Gondwanic vicariance versus long-distance, transoceanic dispersal. Ancestral species of the genus Amaurobioides appear to have undergone several long-distance dispersal events followed by successful establishments and speciation, starting from the mid-Miocene through to the Pleistocene. The most recent common ancestor of all present-day Amaurobioides species is estimated to have originated in Africa after arriving from South America during the Miocene. From Africa the subsequent dispersals are likely to have taken place predominantly in an eastward direction. The long-distance dispersal events by Amaurobioides mostly involved transoceanic crossings, which we propose occurred by rafting, aided by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the West Wind Drift.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Species, Pacific Ocean, South America, Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Antarctic Circumpolar Current