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A preliminary model of iron fertilisation by baleen whales and Antarctic krill in the Southern Ocean: sensitivity of primary productivity estimates to parameter uncertainty


Ratnarajah, L and Melbourne-Thomas, J and Marzloff, MP and Lannuzel, D and Meiners, KM and Chever, F and Nicol, S and Bowie, AR, A preliminary model of iron fertilisation by baleen whales and Antarctic krill in the Southern Ocean: sensitivity of primary productivity estimates to parameter uncertainty, Ecological Modelling, 320 pp. 203-212. ISSN 0304-3800 (2016) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2015 Elsevier B.V.

DOI: doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2015.10.007


Large marine animals may play a crucial role in storing and recycling bioavailable iron in surface waters by consuming iron-rich prey and subsequent defecation of iron that is excess to their requirements. This biological recycling of iron could enhance primary productivity in iron-limited waters. However, quantifying the effects of marine animals on ocean primary productivity remains challenging because of a limited understanding of the key biogeochemical processes involved. In this paper, we develop a preliminary model that explores these uncertainties and examines the potential effects of historical populations of blue, fin and humpback whales, and the biomass of Antarctic krill required to support the whale populations, on primary productivity in the Southern Ocean.

Our results suggest that, despite conservative estimates for key processes in our model, pre-exploitation populations of blue whales and, to a lesser extent fin and humpback whales, could have contributed to iron recycling, resulting in enhanced phytoplankton production in iron-limited Southern Ocean waters. Iron-rich defecation by un-exploited whale populations in the Southern Ocean, and the biomass Antarctic krill required to support them, could have resulted in a contribution to primary productivity of between 1.5נ10−4 to 23.4gCm−2yr−1 (blue whales), 1.4נ10−4 to 13.9gCm−2yr−1 (fin whales), and 2.4נ10−5 to 1.7gCm−2yr−1 (humpback whales). However, only when all parameter estimates are at their upper limits does there appear to be this significant role for whales in enhancing primary productivity, and thus we need to assess the likelihood of these values arising.

The high degree of uncertainty around the magnitude of these increases in primary productivity is mainly due to our limited quantitative understanding of key biogeochemical processes. To reduce uncertainty regarding the effect of whales on Southern Ocean primary productivity, future research will need to refine our understanding of five influential model parameters: iron content in krill; krill consumption rates by whales; persistence of whale faecal iron in the photic zone; bioavailability of this retained iron; and the carbon-to-iron ratio of phytoplankton.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:iron, Antarctic krill, whales, primary productivity, Southern Ocean, preliminary model
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Assessment and management of terrestrial ecosystems
UTAS Author:Ratnarajah, L (Ms Lavenia Ratnarajah)
UTAS Author:Melbourne-Thomas, J (Dr Jessica Melbourne-Thomas)
UTAS Author:Marzloff, MP (Dr Martin Marzloff)
UTAS Author:Lannuzel, D (Associate Professor Delphine Lannuzel)
UTAS Author:Meiners, KM (Dr Klaus Meiners)
UTAS Author:Chever, F (Miss Fanny Chever)
UTAS Author:Nicol, S (Dr Stephen Nicol)
UTAS Author:Bowie, AR (Professor Andrew Bowie)
ID Code:104930
Year Published:2016
Web of Science® Times Cited:24
Deposited By:CRC-Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems
Deposited On:2015-11-27
Last Modified:2022-08-29

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