Benthic ecosystem cascade effects in Antarctica using Bayesian network inference
Abstract: Antarctic sea-floor communities are unique, and more closely resemble those of the Palaeozoic than equivalent contemporary habitats. However, comparatively little is known about the processes that structure these communities or how they might respond to anthropogenic change. In order to investigate likely consequences of a decline or removal of key taxa on community dynamics we use Bayesian network inference to reconstruct ecological networks and infer changes of taxon removal. Here we show that sponges have the greatest influence on the dynamics of the Antarctic benthos. When we removed sponges from the network, the abundances of all major taxa reduced by a mean of 42%, significantly more than changes of substrate. To our knowledge, this study is the first to demonstrate the cascade effects of removing key ecosystem structuring organisms from statistical analyses of Antarctica data and demonstrates the importance of considering the community dynamics when planning ecosystem management.
Funder: British Antarctic Survey Polar Science for Planet Earth Programme.