Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Glass sponges take advantage of retreating Antarctic ice shelves

12.07.2013
The breakup and collapse of the Larsen A ice shelf in the western Weddell Sea in 1995 has resulted in fundamental changes to life on the sea bed in less than two decades.

As reported by biologists from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in the cover story of the current issue of the scientific journal Current Biology, Antarctic glass sponges have been the prime beneficiaries of the disappearance of the ice shelf.


Glass sponges provide habitat and 3-D structure for other Antarctic benthic organisms like feather and brittle stars. Photo from the study site in the Western Weddell Sea. Photo: Thomas Lundalv.

To the surprise of the scientists, the density of these archaic filter-feeders has increased threefold between 2007 and 2011 despite only low plankton food supply and water temperatures of minus 2 degrees Celsius. The sponges had also grown remarkably quickly and had completely supplanted competitors for food. The results show that communities at the bottom of the western Weddell Sea react considerably more quickly to climate-related changes than previously thought.

Glass sponges (Hexactinellida), an archaic group of animals at the basis of the animal kingdom, dominate the shallow seafloor in the Antarctic. Many biologists believed that glass sponges grew so slowly that two-metre behemoths would have to be around 10,000 years or older. These assumptions have now been challenged in a new study led by scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) and published in the current issue of the scientific journal Current Biology.

During a Polarstern expedition to the poorly accessible region of the former Larsen A ice shelf, AWI biologists Laura Fillinger and Claudio Richter, together with colleagues from the University of Gothenburg and the Senkenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum; succeeded in demonstrating that glass sponges can grow rapidly within a short period of time. “We were surprised by what we saw on our video screens in 2011 when we lowered our remotely operated vehicle onto the sea bed at a depth of around 140 metres. In an area, which had revealed large numbers of ascidians and only occasional glass sponges during an earlier expedition with the ice-breaking research vessel ‘Polarstern’ in 2007, four years later we found no ascidians at all. These pioneer species had completely disappeared, replaced by three times the number of glass sponges, including several juvenile individuals”, reports Laura Fillinger, lead author of the study.

Until this time scientists had assumed that communities on the Antarctic sea bed only change very slowly because of the very low temperature (minus two degrees Celsius) and patchy supply of food in pack-ice covered waters. “We now know that glass sponges may undergo boom-and-bust cycles, allowing them to quickly colonize new habitats in a short period of time”, says project leader Prof. Dr. Claudio Richter.

“To the organisms living on the sea bed, the disappearance of the hundred-metre-thick Larsen A ice shelf must have been like the heavens opening up above them”, he adds. Where cold, darkness and food shortages had previously reigned, sunlight now allows plankton growth in surface waters and, hence, a rain of food comes down to the sea bed.

Glass sponges feed on the smallest plankton, which they filter from the water. The animals grow to a size of up to two metres, and their vase-like bodies provide perfect hiding, spawning and shelter opportunities for fish, invertebrates and many other sea dwellers. “Like corals, sponges create their own habitats. To an extent they are like cities on the sea bed. There is something going on wherever they grow, and this attracts other sea dwellers to them”, says Claudio Richter.

New spaces are being created for such underwater worlds wherever the ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula are retreating or breaking up. However, scientists cannot yet definitively say whether this means that glass sponges will be one of the beneficiaries of climate change. Laura Fillinger: “There are still too many unknowns to make predictions. One example is the question of the influence of competitors: currently we are witnessing a fierce competition for space on the sea bed. Another concerns predators: in our dive in 2011 we hardly saw any of the snails and starfish, which feed on glass sponges. However, it is possible that these voracious predators will follow suit and wreak havoc.”

Marine biologists at the Alfred Wegener Institute will continue to monitor the changes to communities in the western Weddell Sea. In January 2013, the planned dives in the area of the former Larsen A ice shelf had to be called off due to the solid pack ice in the Weddell Sea. However, Claudio Richter and his team hope for better pack-ice conditions during future Polarstern trips to this part of the Antarctic so that they can use new investigative methods to discover more about the life cycle of the glass sponges.

Glossary:
What are ice shelves?
An ice shelf is the continuation of a glacier, which floats on the sea, i.e. the part of a glacier that no longer rests on land or the sea bed. The most famous ice shelves are in the Antarctic, where the two largest of their kind can be found in the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf (with an area of some 422,000 square kilometres) and the Ross Ice Shelf (with an area of approximately 473,000 square kilometres). The thickness of the ice sheets differs from ice shelf to ice shelf, and ranges between 50 and 600

metres.

Larsen A ice shelf
“Larsen A” was the name given by scientists to the smallest and most northerly of the three Larsen ice shelves which once extended from the eastern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula to the western Weddell Sea. In January 1995 the Larsen A ice sheet collapsed within a few days during a storm, together with the Prince Gustav ice shelf to the north, affecting an area of some 2000 square kilometres. Its remains then drifted as an armada of small icebergs into the western Weddell Sea. The spectacular collapse filled headlines worldwide, because scientists had never seen before an ice shelf disintegrate so quickly. It was the first time scientists realised that climate change can produce an almost immediate and complete loss of ice shelves. The former Larsen A ice shelf region is now often covered with pack ice and therefore difficult to reach for research ships like the “Polarstern”.
Notes for Editors:
The study appeared under the following original title:
Laura Fillinger, Dorte Janussen, Thomas Lundälv, Claudio Richter: Rapid glass sponge expansion after climate-induced Antarctic ice shelf collapse, Current Biology 23, (11 July 2013), doi:10.1016/j.cub.2013.05.051
We provide photos, a map and video material under the following link until the embargo is lifted: http://www.awi.de/en/news/press_releases/embargoed_photos/2013/press_release

_2013_11_july/

Your scientific contact persons at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) are:
• Dr Claudio Richter (phone: +49 471 4831-1304, e-mail: Claudio.Richter@awi.de),
• Laura Fillinger (e-mail: Laura.Fillinger(at)awi.de),
Your contact person in the Department of Communications and Media Relations is Sina Löschke (phone +49 471 4831-2008, e-mail: medien(at)awi.de).

Follow the Alfred Wegener Institute on Twitter (https://twitter.com/AWI_Media) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/AlfredWegenerInstitute) for all current news and information on everyday stories from the life of the Institute.

The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic and Antarctic and in the high and mid-latitude oceans. The Institute coordinates German polar research and provides important infrastructure such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctic to the international scientific world. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the 18 research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

Ralf Röchert | idw
Further information:
http://www.awi.de

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Could this protein protect people against coronary artery disease?
17.11.2017 | University of North Carolina Health Care

nachricht Microbial resident enables beetles to feed on a leafy diet
17.11.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>