Mapping Antarctic suspension feeder abundances and seafloor food-availability, and modeling their change after a major glacier calving
Jansen, J and Hill, NA and Dunstan, PK and Cougnon, EA and Galton-Fenzi, BK and Johnson, CR, Mapping Antarctic suspension feeder abundances and seafloor food-availability, and modeling their change after a major glacier calving, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 6 Article 94. ISSN 2296-701X (2018) [Refereed Article]
Seafloor communities are a critical part of the unique and diverse Antarctic marine life. Processes at the ocean-surface can strongly influence the diversity and abundance of these communities, even when they live at hundreds of meters water depth. However, even though we understand the importance of this link, there are so far no quantitative spatial predictions on how seafloor communities will respond to changing conditions at the ocean surface. Here, we map patterns in abundance of important habitat-forming suspension feeders on the seafloor in East Antarctica, and predict how these patterns change after a major disturbance in the icescape, caused by the calving of the Mertz Glacier Tongue. We use a purpose-built ocean model for the time-period before and after the calving of the Mertz-Glacier Tongue in 2010, data from satellites and a validated food-availability model to estimate changes in horizontal flux of food since the glacier calving. We then predict the post-calving distribution of suspension feeder abundances using the established relationships with the environmental variables, and changes in horizontal flux of food. Our resulting maps indicate strong increases in suspension feeder abundances close to the glacier calving site, fueled by increased food supply, while the remainder of the region maintains similar suspension feeder abundances despite a slight decrease in total food supply. The oceanographic setting of the entire region changes, with a shorter ice-free season, altered seafloor currents and changes in food-availability. Our study provides important insight into the flow-on effects of a changing icescape on seafloor habitat and fauna in polar environments. Understanding these connections is important in the context of current and future effects of climate change, and the mapped predictions of the seafloor fauna as presented for the study region can be used as a decision-tool for planning potential marine protected areas, and for focusing future sampling and monitoring initiatives.