Predicting the current and future distribution of biodiversity on the continental shelf of Antarctica

  • Research Theme
    Oceans & Cryosphere; Ecology & Biodiversity; Fisheries & Aquaculture
  • Funded By

    Australian Research Council (ARC)

  • Contributor(s)
  • Project Summary

    Biodiversity is one of Nature’s most valuable resources. It is a key element of ecosystem functioning and provides ecosystem stability, food security, pharmaceuticals, and significant cultural value. The uniqueness, high diversity and conservation value of seafloor communities around Antarctica are well recognised.

    However, the distribution of this biodiversity on the Antarctic continental shelf is largely unknown because observations are so sparse, and many biologically relevant environmental predictor variables only exist at coarse resolution or not at all.

    Lack of knowledge about the distribution of biodiversity is the single greatest impediment to:

    1. informed marine spatial planning in Antarctica, including the implementation of conservation measures
    2. policy development underpinning regulation of human activity in Antarctica
    3. predicting the response of Antarctic marine ecosystems to environmental change, and
    4. to quantifying the contribution of continental shelf communities in the sequestration and immobilisation of atmospheric carbon.

    In this project, we construct a unique database from seafloor images taken around Antarctica, and use these data with a newly available ocean model at unprecedented high resolution, to estimate critical environmental predictor variables of biodiversity previously unavailable.

    We combine these biological and environmental data with cutting-edge statistical methods to produce, for the first time for the entire Antarctic continental shelf:

    • Maps of the distribution, diversity and abundance of benthic communities (important for understanding the functioning of the Antarctic ecosystem)
    • Maps identifying vulnerable marine ecosystems (important to inform management of fishery activity)
    • A detailed regionalisation of the Antarctic continental shelf based on biological data (important for conservation and marine spatial planning)
    • Estimates of carbon capture and storage by benthic shelf assemblages (a critical function in the global carbon cycle)
    • Estimates of change in benthic community structure, abundances and function anticipated to 2100

    Seafloor image: Australian Antarctic Division

    Interested in this project?

Authorised by the Executive Director, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
12 March, 2021