NSFGEO-NERC: Collaborative Research "P2P: Predators to Plankton -Biophysical Controls in Antarctic Polynyas"
Predators to Plankton in Antarctic Polynyas
Part I: Non-technical description: The Ross Sea, a globally important ecological hotspot, hosts 25-45% of the world populations of Adélie and emperor penguins, South Polar skuas, Antarctic petrels, and Weddell seals. It is also one of the few marine protected areas designated within the Southern Ocean, designed to protect the workings of its ecosystem. To achieve that goal requires participation in an international research and monitoring program, and more importantly integration of what is known about these mesopredators, which is a lot, and the biological oceanography of their habitat, parts of which are also well known. The project will acquire data on these species’ food web dynamics through assessing of Adélie penguin foraging behavior, an indicator species, while multi-sensor ocean gliders autonomously quantify prey abundance and distribution as well as ocean properties, including phytoplankton, at the base of the food web. Additionally, satellite imagery will quantify sea ice and whales (competitors) within the penguins’ foraging area. Seasoned researchers and students will be involved, as will a public outreach program that reaches >200 school groups per field season, and >1M visits to the website of an ongoing, related project. Lessons about ecosystem change, and how it is measured, i.e. the STEM fields, will be emphasized. Results will be distributed to the world science and management communities. Part II: Technical description: This project, in collaboration with the National Environmental Research Council (UK), assesses food web structure in the southwestern Ross Sea, a major portion of the recently designated Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area, designed to protect the region’s “food web structure, dynamics and function.” Success requires in-depth, integated ecological information. The western Ross Sea, especially the marginal ice zone of the Ross Sea Polynya (RSP), supports global populations of iconic and indicator species: 25% of emperor penguins, 30% of Adélie penguins, 50% of South Polar skuas, and 45% of Weddell seals. However, while individually well researched, for these members of the upper food web information has been poorly integrated into understanding of Ross Sea food web dynamics and biogeochemistry. Information from multi-sensor ocean gliders, high-resolution satellite imagery, diet analysis and biologging of penguins, when integrated will facilitate understanding of the preyscape within the intensively investigated biogeochemistry of the RSP. UK participation covers a number of glider functions (e.g., providing a state-of-the-art glider at minimal cost, glider programming, ballasting, and operation) and supplies expertise to evaluate the oceanographic conditions of the study area. Several student will be involved, as well as an existing outreach program in a related penguin research project reaching annually >200 school groups and >1M website visits.
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