Research carried out by the IDEAL Center and including the participation of the doctoral student, Ignacio Garrido, seeks to characterize populations of these species in the Southern Ocean.

Ignacio Garrido, Marine Biologist, found a great diversity of marine invertebrates associated with seaweed patches.

A study by the Research Center Dynamics of High Latitudes Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Universidad Austral de Chile seeks to characterize the accumulation of algae on the Antarctic sea floor. Ignacio Garrido, a doctoral candidate from the Université Laval (Canada), visited the white continent in order to conduct sampling in the depths of the Southern Ocean within the framework of the Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ECA) 54.

In general, algae -like trees- live fixed in the substrate. However, rather than roots, algae use structures called holdfasts or rhizoids to cling to the seabed. When the plants break off, some rise to the surface and others accumulate in the depths. These are known as drifing benthic algae.

In high-latitude areas such as Antarctica and the Arctic, disturbances created by immense ice floes from nearby glaciers are the primary cause of algal release and its subsequent accumulation in the depths.

“When the icebergs break off, they erode the seabed, generating a great impact on invertebrate and algae communities. Due to this disturbance of the ice, large furrows and depressions are created that act as traps, where some pockets of algae exceeded 20 meters in length,” explained Garrido.

The low temperatures of the icy waters off the white continent create an ideal scenario, allowing the seaweed accumulated on the seabed to remain stable over time, decomposing at an extremely slow rate. This allows time for marine invertebrates restricted to these environments to develop.

“We found a great diversity of marine invertebrate species associated with these seaweed patches. Per square meter, we find thousands and perhaps millions of amphipods, commonly known as sea fleas. This leads us to believe that [accumulated algae] could constitute a breeding area since they provide shelter and food,” says Garrido.

The rising temperatures predicted by future scenarios of global change could cause increased glacial melting in some sectors of the Antarctic territory.

“With greater thawing, the release of algae could increase and, therefore, more algae could accumulate on the sea floor. The impacts of this phenomenon are still unknown and, therefore, it is important to continue carrying out this type of studies,” concluded the researcher.