Drivers of Antarctic Krill Reproductive Output
Warming at the northern Antarctic Peninsula is causing fundamental changes in the marine ecosystem. Antarctic krill are small shrimp-like animals that are most abundant in that area. They are also an essential part of the marine food web of the waters surrounding Antarctica. Meanwhile, a rapidly growing international fishery has developed for krill. Understanding changes in krill populations is therefore critical both to the management of the fishery and the ability of scientists to predict changes in the Antarctic marine ecosystem. This project will have two broader societal impacts. First, the project will support the training of students for careers in oceanography. The students will be recruited from underrepresented groups in an effort to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM. Second, results from this project will develop improved population models, which are essential for the effective management of the Antarctic krill fishery. In collaboration with US delegates on the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the researchers will produce a report outlining the key findings from the study. Effective population modeling relies on empirical and theoretical understanding of how environment drives krill reproduction. There are two critical egg development stages in Antarctic krill that impact population growth. They are early egg development, and advanced egg development/spawning. The timing and duration of early egg development determines the number of eggs produced and the number of seasonal spawning events a female can undergo. The research team will use samples of Antarctic krill collected over the last 30 years in late winter/early spring, summer and early fall. The reproductive development stages of individual females in these samples will be assessed. These data will be modeled against climatological and oceanographic data to test three hypotheses. First, they will test if colder winter conditions correspond to early preparation for spawning. Second, they will test if favorable winter-summer conditions increase early spawning. Finally, they will test if favorable winter-summer conditions lengthen the spawning season. The study will advance current understanding of the environmental conditions that promote population increases in Antarctic krill and will fill an important gap in current knowledge of the reproductive development and output of Antarctic krill. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
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