Using two technological systems, a team of Chilean researchers intends to detect new organisms that try to establish themselves in the southern territory

In recent years, some scientific studies have reported the arrival of external organisms in Antarctica. Species such as the cochayuyo (Durvillaea antarctica) and the mussel (Mytilus cf. platensis) have been sighted on the coasts of the territory, raising questions about their arrival and how their presence affects the native biodiversity of the place.

In order to investigate the arrival of foreign species to the white continent, during the year 2020, a group of scientists from the Center for Dynamic Research of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Austral University of Chile (UACh) installed larval collectors in Fildes Bay (Antarctic Peninsula,) seeking techniques to assess the settlement of marine invertebrates. After two years, and within the framework of a new Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ECA), the scientific diving team managed to rescue much of this equipment, rescuing the data collected during this time.

“From the point of view of ecology, there is no knowledge of the first larval stages of invertebrates, because they are generally observed when they are already in an adult stage. The function of these collectors is to capture the newly settled species,” explained Dr. Leyla Cárdenas, researcher at the IDEAL Center, dean of the UACh Faculty of Sciences and leader of the project.

During the year 2020, a group of scientists installed larval collectors in Fildes Bay (Antarctic Peninsula,) seeking techniques to assess the settlement of marine invertebrates. © Ignacio Garrido

In addition to the data collected by the collector system, the researchers conducted a water analysis in order to examine the environmental DNA of the site. The methodology consists of investigating all traces of what was in a specific sector, being able to recover information from the environment.

“We want to use both monitoring systems as a complement, environmental DNA as a new technology and settlement collectors as a traditional way to record species that are native and detect organisms that are foreign,” said the researcher.

Dr. Cárdenas explained that the aim is to create a taxonomic registry that allows the origin of species to be identified. “It is more convenient to detect foreign organisms in early larval stages than when there are already settled populations,” she said.

The preliminary results showed a large number of first stages of various species, an analysis that will be complemented with environmental DNA to keep a record of the existing biodiversity in Antarctica