Collaborative Research: Relevance of Planktonic Larval Dispersal to Endemism and Biogeography of Antarctic Benthic Invertebrates
Because of extreme isolation of the Antarctic continent since the Early Oligocene, one expects a unique invertebrate benthic fauna with a high degree of endemism. Yet some invertebrate taxa that constitute important ecological components of sedimentary benthic communities include more than 40 percent non-endemic species (e.g., benthic polychaetes). To account for non-endemic species, intermittent genetic exchange must occur between Antarctic and other (e.g. South American) populations. The most likely mechanism for such gene flow, at least for in-faunal and mobile macrobenthos, is dispersal of planktonic larvae across the sub- Antarctic and Antarctic polar fronts. To test for larval dispersal as a mechanism of maintaining genetic continuity across polar fronts, the scientists propose to (1) take plankton samples along transects across Drake passage during both the austral summer and winter seasons while concurrently collecting the appropriate hydrographic data. Such data will help elucidate the hydrographic mechanisms that allow dispersal across Drake Passage. Using a molecular phylogenetic approach, they will (2) compare seemingly identical adult forms from Antarctic and South America continents to identify genetic breaks, historical gene flow, and control for the presence of cryptic species. (3) Similar molecular tools will be used to relate planktonic larvae to their adult forms. Through this procedure, they propose to link the larval forms respectively to their Antarctic or South America origins. The proposed work builds on previous research that provides the basis for this effort to develop a synthetic understanding of historical gene flow and present day dispersal mechanism in South American/Drake Passage/Antarctic Peninsular region. Furthermore, this work represents one of the first attempts to examine recent gene flow in Antarctic benthic invertebrates. Graduate students and a postdoctoral fellow will be trained during this research.
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