Project Information
Move, Adapt, or Change: Examining the Adaptive Capacity of a Southern Ocean Apex Predator, the Leopard Seal
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The leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) is an enigmatic apex predator in the rapidly changing Southern Ocean. As top predators, leopard seals play a disproportionately large role in ecosystem functioning; they also act as sentinel species that can track abiotic and biotic habitat changes. How leopard seals respond to a warming environment depends on their adaptive capacity—a species’ ability to cope with environmental change. However, leopard seals are one of the least studied apex predators on earth, hindering our ability to predict how the species is responding to polar environmental changes. Therefore, our objective is to determine leopard seals’ adaptive capacity by quantifying their ability to move (dispersal ability), adapt (genetic diversity), and change (plasticity). In Aim 1, we will determine leopard seals’ dispersal ability by assessing their distribution and movement patterns. In Aim 2, we will quantify genetic diversity by analyzing genetic variability and population structure. In Aim 3, we will examine plasticity by evaluating changes in their ecological niche and physiological responses. We have assembled an international, multidisciplinary Antarctic-experienced team to analyze existing data (e.g., photographs, census data, life history data, tissue samples, body morphometrics) collected from leopard seals across the Southern Ocean (e.g., South Shetland Islands, east and west Antarctica) over the last decade. Land- and cruise ship-based field efforts will generate comparable data from unsampled regions (e.g., Antarctic Peninsula, Chile, New Zealand,). By analyzing these historical and contemporary datasets, we will evaluate the adaptive capacity of leopard seals against the rapidly warming Southern Ocean.
Person Role
Kienle, Sarah Investigator and contact
Trumble, Stephen J Co-Investigator
Bonin, Carolina Co-Investigator
Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Award # 2146068
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
Product Level:
  1. Bender, A. N., Krause, D. J., Goebel, M. E., Hoffman, J. I., Lewallen, E. A., & Bonin, C. A. (2023). Genetic diversity and demographic history of the leopard seal: A Southern Ocean top predator. PLOS ONE, 18(8), e0284640. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0284640)
Platforms and Instruments

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