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Climate-linked iceberg activity massively reduces spatial competition in Antarctic shallow waters

West Antarctic seas are rapidly changing and life in them is thought to be highly sensitive – but to date the only impacts reported have been on single species. The recent paper in Current Biology reports, from a study at Rothera Research Station on hte Antarctic Peninsula, that there has been a cascade effect of warming. This has led to a reduction of fast ice over the last 25 years, which has in turn resulted in more iceberg scouring (because icebergs can move around more in open water and so collide with the seabed more often).

Ultimately, this has started to fundamentally change the structure of biodiversity on the seabed, by altering the way species encrusting boulders interact with each other. The seabed is where most Antarctic species live, but only in the shallows do we know much about it. A decade ago, life in the shallows beside Rothera Research Station was a complex network of many species fighting for space, but gradually this patchwork quilt has involved fewer competitors – until now it all revolves around a single weedy pioneer species which was involved in every single battle for space. As with everywhere else in the world, competition used to be key to structuring the nearshore environment but it now seems to play a lesser role and many species have become irrelevant to the community there.

This is the first indication that climate change is altering a whole biological system in Antarctic seas rather than just a species.

Link to the full paper in the NERC Open Research Archive


Authors

David K. A. Barnes, Mairi Fenton and Ashley Cordingley

Publication

Current Biology, 24 (16). R553-R554