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Antarctic Seabed Assemblages in an Ice-Shelf-Adjacent Polynya, Western Weddell Sea.

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Peer-reviewed

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Article

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Authors

Frinault, Bétina AV  ORCID logo  https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0418-0040
Christie, Frazer DW 
Hutchinson, Katherine A  ORCID logo  https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3472-8273

Abstract

Ice shelves cover ~1.6 million km2 of the Antarctic continental shelf and are sensitive indicators of climate change. With ice-shelf retreat, aphotic marine environments transform into new open-water spaces of photo-induced primary production and associated organic matter export to the benthos. Predicting how Antarctic seafloor assemblages may develop following ice-shelf loss requires knowledge of assemblages bordering the ice-shelf margins, which are relatively undocumented. This study investigated seafloor assemblages, by taxa and functional groups, in a coastal polynya adjacent to the Larsen C Ice Shelf front, western Weddell Sea. The study area is rarely accessed, at the frontline of climate change, and located within a CCAMLR-proposed international marine protected area. Four sites, ~1 to 16 km from the ice-shelf front, were explored for megabenthic assemblages, and potential environmental drivers of assemblage structures were assessed. Faunal density increased with distance from the ice shelf, with epifaunal deposit-feeders a surrogate for overall density trends. Faunal richness did not exhibit a significant pattern with distance from the ice shelf and was most variable at sites closest to the ice-shelf front. Faunal assemblages significantly differed in composition among sites, and those nearest to the ice shelf were the most dissimilar; however, ice-shelf proximity did not emerge as a significant driver of assemblage structure. Overall, the study found a biologically-diverse and complex seafloor environment close to an ice-shelf front and provides ecological baselines for monitoring benthic ecosystem responses to environmental change, supporting marine management.

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Keywords

Antarctica, Larsen C Ice Shelf, Weddell Sea, benthic assemblages, benthic biodiversity, climate change, coastal polynya, continental shelf, functional groups, ice shelf

Journal Title

Biology (Basel)

Conference Name

Journal ISSN

2079-7737
2079-7737

Volume Title

11

Publisher

MDPI AG
Sponsorship
Natural Environment Research Council (NE/RO11885/1)