Spatial competition in a global disturbance minimum; the seabed under an Antarctic ice shelf

Johann.Klages [ at ]


The marine habitat beneath Antarctica’s ice shelves spans ~1.6 million km2, and life in this vast and extreme environment is among Earth’s least accessible, least disturbed and least known, yet likely to be impacted by climate-forced warming and environmental change. Although competition among biota is a fundamental structuring force of ecological communities, hence ecosystem functions and services, nothing was known of competition for resources under ice shelves, until this study. Boreholes drilled through a ~ 200 m thick ice shelf enabled collections of novel sub-ice-shelf seabed sediment which contained fragments of biogenic substrata rich in encrusting (lithophilic) macrobenthos, principally bryozoans – a globally-ubiquitous phylum sensitive to environmental change. Analysis of sub-glacial biogenic substrata, by stereo microscopy, provided first evidence of spatial contest competition, enabling generation of a new range of competition measures for the sub-ice-shelf benthic space. Measures were compared with those of global open-water datasets traversing polar, temperate and tropical latitudes (and encompassing both hemispheres). Spatial competition in sub-ice-shelf samples was found to be higher in intensity and severity than all other global means. The likelihood of sub-ice-shelf competition being intraspecific was three times lower than for open-sea polar continental shelf areas, and competition complexity, in terms of the number of different types of competitor pairings, was two-fold higher. As posited foran enduring disturbance minimum, a specific bryozoan clade was especially competitively dominant in sub-ice shelf samples compared with both contemporary and fossil assemblage records. Overall, spatial competition under an Antarctic ice shelf, as characterised by bryozoan interactions, was strikingly different from that of open- sea polar continental shelf sites, and more closely resembled tropical and temperate latitudes. This study represents the first analysis of sub-ice-shelf macrobenthic spatial competition and provides a new ecological baseline for exploring, monitoring and comparing ecosystem response to environmental change in a warming world.

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DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.166157

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Frinault, B. A. , Barnes, D. K. , Biskaborn, B. K. , Gromig, R. , Hillenbrand, C. D. , Klages, J. P. , Koglin, N. and Kuhn, G. (2023): Spatial competition in a global disturbance minimum; the seabed under an Antarctic ice shelf , The Science of The Total Environment, 903 , p. 166157 . doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.166157

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