Studying the impact of the anthropic pressure and the natural threats that affect the Antarctic benthos —organisms that live in the seafloor— is the main objective of the new Antarctic campaign of the Challenge research project, led by Professor Conxita └vila, from the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute ( IRBio ) of the University of Barcelona.
From January 11 to March 20, the new research campaign of the UB will contribute to promote the knowledge on the Antarctic marine ecology and will provide new scientific data of interest to protect these extreme ecosystems that play a decisive role in the ecology of the planet, and which are threatened by the effects of the climate crisis.
Challenge is divided into five specific aims aimed at analysing the changes in ecological interactions, assessing changes in biodiversity, experimentally determining the acidification and biomineralization, quantifying marine waste —especially plastics— in the column of water, sediments and benthic invertebrates, and integrating the bonds between different agents related to the environmental change.
Challenge: challenges to protect the Antarctic benthos
"Our goal is to determine how some factors —for instance, temperature rise or the ocean acidification— affect a series of selected benthic organisms, and how the changes have an impact on the ecological interactions and the chemical ecology (symbiosis, pathologies, appearance of invasive species, etc.)", notes Conxita └vila, professor at the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences. This campaign will undergo a sample collection and experiments that will enable four predoctoral researchers, who are conducting their doctoral theses at the UB, to work on their research.
The UB-IRBio team will apply several methodologies to assess the impact of changes on the biodiversity of the Antarctic benthos and the study of habitats and little-known biological groups, through a latitudinal gradient in different Antarctic marine areas. As part of the study, the researchers will compare the results between pristine and polluted areas due to the impact of tourism or the presence of research stations.
The addition of the results of the Challenge project on anthropic and environmental factors that threaten the Antarctic marine benthos —apart from the previous general knowledge on the Antarctic peninsula and nearby areas— will provide a great dataset and useful information for the international scientific community. In this context, the application of the assessment of the Good Environmental Status (GES) will enable researchers to establish a system of describers and indicators to present a GES operational definition for this Antarctic area of potential interest to evaluate potential additional activities in the Antarctic continent.
The new campaign will help promote the Antarctic science and the knowledge of previous projects led by Professor ┴vila (Ecoquim, Actiquim, Distantcom and Bluebio), which were decisive to expand the knowledge on the biological heritage, phylogeography and the chemical ecology of Antarctic marine invertebrate communities. In previous campaigns, the UB-IRBio team made scientific contributions that broadened the horizon of knowledge on Antarctic biodiversity, with the findings of new species of marine invertebrates —molluscs, annelids, nemerteans, bryozoans, and other organisms —, in addition to identifying marine bioactive molecules of pharmaceutical interest and other advances on the knowledge of the ecology of the Antarctic benthic ecosystems.
Climate change and deglaciation in the Antarctica
Antarctic latitudes are also the scenario for the Nunantar project, led by Marc Oliva, Ramˇn y Cajal researcher and lecturer at the Faculty of Geography and History. Nunantar is an initiative promoted by the Foundation for Science and Technology (Portugal) to reconstruct in the space and time coordinates the deglaciation process in the Livingstone and King George islands —in the South Shetland Islands— from the Last Glacial Maximum. During this austral summer, a team of the project will go to extreme latitudes to unveil new researches on the role of the Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in the global climate system during the two past millennia.