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News Story - First marine biodiversity record for any Antarctic polar sea

Date: 07 Aug 2008

A special issue of the international journal Antarctic Science collates, for the first time, the diverse results obtained from the BIOPEARL research cruise (2006) within the Scotia Arc region of the South Atlantic Ocean. This is the most comprehensive attempt to survey the biodiversity of a polar sea and provides an invaluable reference for scientists investigating marine biodiversity.

From bacteria to giant octopus and fish, genes to communities and biology to hydrology, this special issue includes a diverse range of pioneering work carried out within the mountainous islands and underwater chain of ridges that form Scotia Arc.

Key findings from the research cruise include the collation of the first marine biodiversity record for any Antarctic site, in this case Deception Island - an active volcano -, where 163 marine species were found within the caldera to date. As Deception Island is comparatively poor in biodiversity, this finding illustrates how rich the surrounding Antarctic shelf must be. Scientists also show that the continental slope of Shag Rocks could be as rich as its shelf, against all expectations, with a staggering 81 species on only 0.36 m2 of boulder surface. This high diversity of species, some of which had not been recorded at this region before, provides a potential source for re-colonising the shelf if the area was decimated by ice shelf expansions. In addition, it was found that despite the isolation and recent eruptions of Southern Thule, it has already been re-colonised to high diversities, including by animals without dispersive larvae.

Lead author, Dr David Barnes from BAS, says:

“The BIOPEARL cruise was a fantastic project which enabled us to survey marine biodiversity in more detail, across a wider range of taxa, techniques and with greater context than had been done previously. As a result, we have learnt more about continental slope biology from this one cruise than has been achieved in the previous half a century. “

Notes for Editors

Pictures are available from the BAS Press Office as above.

The issue: BIOPEARL cruise in the Scotia Sea is published in Antarctic Science, Vol. 20 Special Issue 03. There are 22 authors in total. The British Antarctic Survey authors include: Claire S. Allen, David K. A. Barnes, Matt Brown, M. A. Collins, Peter Enderlein, Keiron P. P. Fraser, Huw J. Griffiths, Katrin Linse, David Pearce, Dan Smale and John L. Smellie.

The volume consists of 9 research papers, 8 of which are authored by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists and includes 11 BAS authors in total.

Author Contacts:
Dr David Barnes, British Antarctic Survey. Tel + 44 (0)1223 221613; email: d.barnes@bas.ac.uk

Caldera - is a volcanic feature formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption.

Scotia Arc - is a chain of islands and undersea ridges that link the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula to those of Tierra del Fuego and the Andes. It is of intense scientific interest and its marine biodiversity has probably been better studied than anywhere else in Antarctica.

Southern Thule - is a collection of the three southernmost islands in the South Sandwich Islands consisting of Thule, Bellingshausen and Cook. Thule and Bellingshausen islands are active volcanoes.

The Cambridge-based British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is a world leader in research into global environmental issues. With an annual budget of around £45 million, five Antarctic Research Stations, two Royal Research Ships and five aircraft BAS undertakes an interdisciplinary research programme and plays an active and influential role in Antarctic affairs. BAS has joint research projects with over 40 UK universities and has more than 120 national and international collaborations. It is a component of the Natural Environment Research Council. More information about the work of the Survey can be found at: www.antarctica.ac.uk