Collaborative Research: Exploring the Vulnerability of Southern Ocean Pinnipeds to Climate Change - An Integrated Approach
Building on previously funded NSF research, the use of paleobiological and paleogenetic data from mummified elephant seal carcasses found along the Dry Valleys and Victoria Land Coast in areas that today are too cold to support seal colonies (Mirougina leonina; southern elephant seals; SES) supports the former existence of these seals in this region. The occurrence and then subsequent disappearance of these SES colonies is consistent with major shifts in the Holocene climate to much colder conditions at the last ~1000 years BCE).
Further analysis of the preserved remains of three other abundant pinnipeds ? crabeater (Lobodon carciophagus), Weddell (Leptonychotes weddelli) and leopard (Hydrurga leptonyx) will be studied to track changes in their population size (revealed by DNA analysis) and their diet (studied via stable isotope analysis). Combined with known differences in life history, preferred ice habitat and ecosystem sensitivity among these species, this paleoclimate proxy data will be used to assess their exposure and sensitivity to climate change in the Ross Sea region during the past ~1-2,000 years
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