Collaborative Research: Have transantarctic dispersal corridors impacted Antarctic marine biodiversity?
Overview: The ice cover of Antarctica is changing rapidly, and some reports already suggest we are at, or possibly beyond, the tipping point for the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse. Loss of this ice sheet will have profound effects on marine fauna, including dramatically changing habitat availability for benthic marine species in the Southern Ocean. Formation and collapse of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet is a cyclical process suggesting that we can learn how fauna respond to ice loss by examining historical climate conditions. Evidence from sediment cores suggests a near complete collapse occurred ~1.1 MYA and modeling suggests a collapse as recent at 125 KYA. During such periods, transantarctic seaways connected the Ross and Weddell Seas. Interestingly, most theories regarding marine invertebrate distributions around the Antarctic focus on dispersal by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current or population bottlenecks and expansions generated by repeated cycles of glaciation and fail to account for transcontinental seaways. Although the impact of previous seaways on genetic structure of present-day populations has been largely ignored, a growing body of data reveal historical connections between Ross and Weddell invertebrate communities, suggesting historical dispersal between these present-day disconnected and distant basins. Future ice shelf collapses will likely reestablish such connections causing redistribution of marine taxa. By exploring alternative hypotheses about the factors that may have shaped patterns of biodiversity in the last couple of million years, our proposed work will aid prediction of possible changes that may, or may not, occur as the Antarctic ice sheets continue to deteriorate. Intellectual Merit: The overarching goal of this research is to understand environmental factors that have shaped patterns of present-day diversity in Antarctic benthic marine invertebrates. Building on our previous work examining circumpolar distributions of multiple marine benthic invertebrate, we are particularly interested in assessing if transantarctic waterways may help explain observed similarities between the Ross and Weddell Seas better than other possible explanations (e.g., dispersal by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, or expansion from common glacial refugia). To this end, we will employ population genomic approaches using Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) markers that sample thousands of loci across the genome. Building on our previous phylogeographic studies, we will target 7 Antarctic benthic invertebrate taxa to test alternative hypothesis accounting for population genetic structure. Additionally, the current paradigm is that divergence between closely related, often cryptic, species is the result of genetic drift due to population bottlenecks caused by glaciation. We will directly test this assumption by mapping SNP data on to draft genomes of three of our target taxa to assess the degree of genetic divergence and look for signs of selection. If linkage groups under selection are found, we will examine cellular mechanisms under selection. Thus, our research directly addresses NSF programmatic goals to understand how Antarctic biota evolve and adapt. Broader Impacts: Our approach will test several hypotheses that dominate the current understanding of marine biodiversity patterns in the Antarctic providing relevance to several fields of Antarctic science. Also, there are implications for understanding and predicting effects of future ice shelf collapse. The PIs are committed to developing the next generation of researchers and actively engage underrepresented groups at all career stages. We expect to train a minimum of 4 graduate students, a postdoc and several undergraduates on this project. This work will include several specific outreach activities including continuation of our past social media efforts with cruise blogs which were accessed by several thousand unique IP addresses and presentations in K-8 classrooms that reach about 300+ children a year. We also propose to develop 15-20 short YouTube videos on Antarctic genomics as outreach products, we will conduct a photo exhibition, and we will develop two 3-day workshops aimed at students to introduce them to bioinformatics approaches. These works will have formal assessment. This proposal requires fieldwork in the Antarctic.
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