Scientific work shows the importance of in-depth analysis of these organisms, key links in the food chain in Antarctica and highly sensitive to environmental changes

It is becoming increasingly imperative to understand how the effects of climate change are affecting biodiversity and the functioning of the marine ecosystems of the Southern Ocean, in order to carry out conservation strategies that allow the effective management of the resources of the southernmost part of the planet.

Zooplankton is one of them, being the most important link in the Antarctic food web, a source of energy and food for large species such as whales, fish and birds. For this reason, a multidisciplinary team of researchers undertook the task of studying its general state at the South Pole.

Through the literature review, and the analysis of the current distributions of the classified species and the evidence of changes in the oceanographic variables in recent times, member scientists of the initiative for Marine Ecosystem Assessment for the Southern Ocean (MEASO), delivered a report on the general conditions of these organizations.

The team studied the main groups of zooplankton present in Antarctica: Euphausiids, Antarctic krill, copepods, theropods and salps. The responses of the organisms were evaluated under parameters such as wind, sea ice, ocean surface temperature, circulation, stratification, acidification, relative events of extreme change and climatic variables.

“We analyzed the status of these species to date, seeing the changes to which they have been adapting and how we can project a predictive model that helps us visualize the future of Antarctic zooplankton,” commented Dr. Juan Höfer, oceanographer from the Center for Dynamic Research of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Austral University of Chile (UACh) and academic from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV), who participated in the study.

The team studied the main groups of zooplankton present in Antarctica: Euphausiids, Antarctic krill, copepods, theropods and salps.

The research determined that all the zooplankton in the Southern Ocean would be highly influenced by climatic variations, especially by changes in the temperature of the sea surface. On the other hand, there are parameters such as salinity, which until now have had a low impact on these organisms.

Another of the important points analyzed by the study is related to the interaction of the marine ecosystem with the primary producers, that is, the amount of phytoplankton (photosynthetic organisms) available for feeding zooplankton, a fundamental variable that could be altered by the environmental changes of the last time.

“One of the conclusions we reached as a team is that most of these environmental changes will have negative effects on these species. It is complex to establish how the anthropogenic effects (action of the human being) will continue to influence on a large scale, but the effects on a local scale will depend on how some activities, such as fishing, are regulated,” commented Dr. Höfer.

The study, published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, emphasizes the importance of standardizing the information available on groups of Antarctic zooplankton, in order to obtain unified parameters that allow better management and conservation models to be established.