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Concept: Subantarctic


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


Two main hypotheses have been debated about the biogeography of the Southern Ocean: (1) the Antarctic Polar Front (APF), acting as a barrier between Antarctic and sub-Antarctic provinces, and (2) the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), promoting gene flow among sub-Antarctic areas. The Gentoo penguin is distributed throughout these two provinces, separated by the APF. We analyzed mtDNA (HVR1) and 12 microsatellite loci of 264 Gentoo penguins, Pygoscelis papua, from 12 colonies spanning from the Western Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands (WAP) to the sub-Antarctic Islands (SAI). While low genetic structure was detected among WAP colonies (mtDNA ФST=0.037-0.133; microsatellite FST=0.009-0.063), high differentiation was found between all SAI and WAP populations (mtDNA ФST = 0.678-0.930; microsatellite FST = 0.110-0.290). These results suggest that contemporary dispersal around the Southern Ocean is very limited or absent. As predicted, the APF appears to be a significant biogeographical boundary for Gentoo penguin populations; however, the ACC does not promote connectivity in this species. Our data suggest demographic expansion in the WAP during the last glacial maximum (LGM, about 20 Kya), but stability in SAI. Phylogenetic analyses showed a deep divergence between populations from the WAP and those from the SAI. Therefore, taxonomy should be further revised. The Crozet Islands resulted as a basal clade (3.57 Mya), followed by the Kerguelen Islands (2.32 Mya) as well as a more recent divergence between the Falkland/Malvinas Islands and the WAP (1.27 Mya). Historical isolation, local adaptation, and past climate scenarios of those Evolutionarily Significant Units may have led to different potentials to respond to climate changes.

Concepts: Penguin, Antarctica, Penguins, Southern Ocean, Pygoscelis, Subantarctic, Gentoo Penguin, Antarctic Circumpolar Current


We describe a previously unknown assemblage of seamount-associated megabenthos that has by far the highest peak biomass reported in the deep-sea outside of vent communities. The assemblage was found at depths of 2-2.5 km on rocky geomorphic features off the southeast coast of Australia, in an area near the Sub-Antarctic Zone characterised by high rates of surface productivity and carbon export to the deep-ocean. These conditions, and the taxa in the assemblage, are widely distributed around the Southern mid-latitudes, suggesting the high-biomass assemblage is also likely to be widespread. The role of this assemblage in regional ecosystem and carbon dynamics and its sensitivities to anthropogenic impacts are unknown. The discovery highlights the lack of information on deep-sea biota worldwide and the potential for unanticipated impacts of deep-sea exploitation.

Concepts: Ecology, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Australia, Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Krill, Subantarctic