Using Bio-acoustics on an Autonomous Surveying Platform for the Examination of Phytoplankton-zooplankton and Fish Interactions in the Western Ross Sea
Terra Nova Bay (western Ross Sea, Antarctica) supports dense populations of several key species in the Ross Sea food web, including copepods, crystal krill (Euphausia crystallorophias), Antarctic silverfish (Pleuragramma antarcticum), and colonies of Adélie and Emperor penguins that feed primarily on crystal krill and silverfish. Absent from our understanding of the Ross Sea food web is zooplankton and silverfish mesoscale distribution, spatial structure of age/maturity classes, and their interactions with physical drivers and each other. The quantitative linkages between primary producers and the higher trophic levels, specifically, the processes responsible for the regulation of abundance and rates of middle trophic levels dominated by copepods and crystal krill (Euphausia crystallorophias), is virtually unknown. Given that the next century will see extensive changes in the Ross Sea’s ice distributions and oceanography as a result of climate change, understanding the basic controls of zooplankton and silverfish abundance and distribution is essential. During a January – March 2018 cruise in the western Ross Sea, we deployed a glider equipped with an echo sounder (Acoustic Zooplankton Fish Profiler) that simultaneously measured depth, temperature, conductivity, chlorophyll fluorescence, and dissolved oxygen. Additionally, net tows, mid-water trawls, and crystal krill grazing experiments were conducted. Our study provided the first glider-based acoustic assessment of simultaneous distributions of multiple trophic levels in the Ross Sea, from which predator-prey interactions and the relationships between organisms and physics drivers (sea ice, circulation features) were investigated. We illustrated high variability in ocean physics, phytoplankton biomass, and crystal krill biomass and aggregation over time and between locations within Terra Nova Bay. Biomass of krill was highest in locations characterized by deeper mixed layers and highest integrated chlorophyll concentrations. Krill aggregations were consistently located at depth well below the mixed layer and chlorophyll maximum. Experiments investigating krill grazing, in combination with krill depth distributions relative to chlorophyll biomass, illuminate high krill grazing rates could be attributed to the occupation of a unique niche whereby they are opportunistically feeding on sinking high concentrations of detritus derived from surface blooms. The information on the abundance, distribution, and interactions of key species in multiple trophic levels resulting from this project provide a conceptual background to understand how this ecosystem might respond to future conditions under climate change. Our project tested the capability of a multi-frequency echo sounder on a glider for the first time. The production of consistent, vertically-resolved, high resolution glider-based acoustic measurements will pave the way for cost-effective, automated examination of entire food webs and ecosystems in regions all over the global ocean. A wide range of users including academic and government scientists, ecosystem-based fisheries managers, and monitoring programs including those conducted by OOI, IOOS, and NOAA will benefit from this project. This project also provided the opportunity to focus on broadening participation in research and articulating the societal benefits through education and innovative outreach programs. A data set from this project is being included in the new NSF-funded Polar CAP initiative, that will be used by a diverse and young audience to increase understanding of the polar system and the ability to reason with data. Finally, this project provided a unique field opportunity and excellent hand-on training for a post-doctoral researcher, a graduate student, and two undergraduate students.
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