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RECENT SCIENCE HIGHLIGHTS
British Antarctic Survey Core Research Programme: Marine Organismal Adaptations (Peck, Barnes, Fraser, BAS)
The major factors controlling community diversity in the Antarctic marine environment are ice scour, competition, larval supply and settlement. It is well know that Antarctic marine animals can only live within narrow temperature ranges and many die at around +5°C. Key challenges of this project were to identify the diverse forms of life; and to investigate how organisms – from bacteria through fungi to fish and clams – respond or adapt to major environmental stresses, and how well they may survive the predicted environmental warming. Most of the data for this project were obtained using scientific diving. On average MOA has produced >35 ISI-listed publications and 4.5 book chapters per year over the 5 year duration of the project. Probably a quarter to a third of these publications directly involved diving. 22 PhD students have been involved with the project. Diving scientists and diving support staff received training at NFSD prior to deployment in Antarctica.
Seasonal Foraminiferal Biogeochemistry
Ocean sediments provide an important archive of fossils from which the long-term history of climate change can be determined. By understanding the conditions which the different fossil groups prefer, it is possible to trace how environmental conditions have changed. One of the most important fossil groups found in marine sediments which provide evidence for past climates are the tests of single-celled foraminifera. Foraminifera are especially important as indicators of past condition because while they are alive the formation of their calcareous test varies in chemical structure depending on the environmental conditions. In order to improve our understanding of how shell chemistry is controlled by important environmental variables, scientists at St Andrews University have established a novel sea-water culturing system at the Gatty Marine Laboratory funded by the NERC (NE/B506051/1).
Divers from the NFSD have initiated a project in collaboration with Dr William Austin (University of St Andrews) to collect surface sediment samples every 2 weeks at a site close to the Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory. In addition, bottom water samples are being collected and temperature is being logged at the sampling site. The project aims to build a picture of the seasonal abundance of benthic foraminifera. The project will examine the seasonal dynamics of growth in shallow marine benthic foraminifera and, through novel biogechemical methods, investigate growth-related processes and their impact on trace metal and stable isotope incorporation into shell chemistry.
Bagging a sediment sample at depth for subsequent analysis for for aminiferas
The UK National Tide Gauge Network, Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (NERC)
The Tide Gauge Inspectorate based at POL is responsible for the operation, maintenance and development of the tide gauge network. Part of the Inspectorate team is comprised of a dive team that deploys, maintains and retrieves sub-tidal gauges at 44 locations around the UK. NFSD training has concentrated on dive supervisor training, project management and equipment loans; staff from POL will undergo HSE SCUBA training at NFSD in 2007-8. The tide gauge network underpins the scientific outputs of the National Tidal and Sea Level Facility (NTSLF). The NTSLF comprises the UK National Tide Gauge Network, geodetic networks for monitoring vertical land movements, and gauges in the British Dependent Territories of the South Atlantic and Gibraltar. NTSLF provides technical expertise to a wide community and supplies quality-controlled data with a range of practical and scientific applications including tidal prediction, flood warning, navigation, determination of extreme sea levels for coastal engineering design and studies into climate change. In addition the data obtained from the network supports NERC cores strategic science programmes at POL. In particular the data support the science & technology Programme 1 - Sea-level, bottom pressure and space geodesy. The aims of this programme are to test and apply new oceanographic and geodetic methods to sea and land level changes and to complement other ocean techniques with particular attention to climatically sensitive high latitude regions.
Data from the UK National Tide Gauge Network also contributes to the European Sea Level Service (ESEAS) and the Global Sea Level Observing System (GLOSS). Additional tide gauges are located and maintained in the southern Atlantic and form part of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current Levels by Altimetry and Island Measurements programme (ACCLAIM). Data from ACCLAIM also contribute to GLOSS.
Physiological ecology of cold-water corals
As part a study into the respiratory physiology of Lophelia pertusa, a comparative study of oxygen uptake by the cup coral Caryophyllia smithii was carried out. These corals were collected by the NFSD and maintained in recirculating seawater at the Scottish Association for Marine Science. The effect of temperature and dissolved oxygen change on the oxygen consumption of the cup coral, Caryophyllia smithii, was investigated to allow comparisons with another cold-water scleractinian. Caryophyllia smithii was able to maintain respiratory independence throughout a range of PO2 and displayed a degree of regulation similar to L. pertusa. Q10 values suggest that C. smithii may be physiologically affected at high temperatures but may be more tolerant to temperature change than L. pertusa. Caryophyllia smithii was able to survive periods of both short-term anoxia and hypoxia and a substantial oxygen debt implied the use of anaerobic metabolism. Caryophyllia smithii also appeared to employ behavioural mechanisms at low and zero oxygen levels by inflating the polyp tissue. This behaviour has been reported in the field in sedimented areas but this is the first study that links the behaviour to oxygen availability. Because of the encrusting nature of Caryophyllia smithii on near vertical or overhanging sub-surface faces, and the brittle nature of this organism, collection was only possible by using diving.
Dodds LA (2007) The ecophysiology of the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa (Scleractinia). PhD thesis, University of Aberdeen. 195pp
Recovery of benthic invertebrate communities and
Recovery speed after chronic trawling disturbance remains largely unknown, particularly for slow growing emergent biota such as gorgonians, corals, sponges and bryozoa. It is important to understand the rate of recovery within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) subsequent to their creation. Sessile species such as corals have been proposed to suffer from Allee effects (reproductive failure at low density). In principle, this means that for such species protection within an MPA is the most successful means of management, since populations are maintained at high density. However, if reserves are established only once densities are very reduced, recovery trajectories are highly uncertain since the majority of the population in the reserves may be effectively non-reproductive. The ability of such species to recover from chronic disturbance may depend to a large extent on the details of their life history, particularly their reproductive strategy, e.g. whether they reproduce clonally as well as sexually, whether they are broadcasters or brooders, whether there is reproductive synchrony etc. Deriving relationships between recovery rate, density and life history characteristics will clearly be useful for future conservation planning in these vulnerable species. This project employs NFSD divers to examine four newly created MPAs in Lyme Bay on the south coast of England. The diving involves taking samples for genetic analysis and locating and retrieving experimental slates deployed for settlement studies. Diving can only be used for these studies because of the sensitive nature of the protected zones and the complexity of the seabed.
Reconstructing past ocean processes through macropalaeontological studies of selected Mollusca (Dr Bill Austin and Keziah Stott, University of St Andrews; Pilot study)
During the summer 2006, live-collected specimens of the long-lived marine bivalve mollusc Arctica islandica were collected from the mouth of Loch Creran, Argyll, by NFSD divers. The sectioned shells of Arctica islandica reveal a pattern of annual-banding from which a record of growth has been derived. Preliminary results (Stott, 2007) reveal live-collected shells from this site of up to 111 years and, following detrending of the ontogenetic growth series, it has been possible to generate plots of standardized growth index (SGI) which reveal the high-frequency inter-annual and decadal variability in shell increment widths. While the environmental significance of the SGI remains unclear, in the case of material collected from Loch Creran we believe that a relationship with the strength and sign of the Winter North Atlantic Oscillation Index (WNAO) exists. It is intended that this pilot study will form the basis of future postgraduate study. Subject to some further analyses, the data obtained will be written-up for publication in a peer-review journal within the next 12 months (Stott & Austin, in prep.).
The relationship between shell band-width data, expressed as standardized growth index (SGI), for a live-collected specimen (L20a) of Arctica islandica from Loch Creran, Argyll and the Winter North Atlantic Oscillation (WNAO) index.
Stott, K.J. 2007. The Application of Sclerochronology to the Mollusc Arctica islandica to Explore Climate Change off the West Coast
of Scotland, With Reference to the WNAO Index. Unpublished Undergraduate Dissertation – The University of St Andrews.
Stott, K.J. and Austin, W.E.N. (in preparation) Reconstructing the twentieth century winter North Atlantic Oscillation index from the
long-lived marine bivalve Arctica islandica.
Quantifying biotic interactions with inshore subtidal
structures: comparisons between artificial and natural reefs
Diving was employed to develop methods to assess the productivity of subtidal structures, and to establish whether there are differences in the productivity of artificial and natural reefs. The diving-related components of the project involved detailed recruitment studies and comparative monitoring methods, in addition to standard underwater techniques employed by scientific divers.
Beaumont, J.C. (2006). Quantifying biotic interactions with inshore subtidal structures: comparisons
between artificial and natural reefs. PhD thesis, UHI Millennium Institute and Open University, 327 pp.
Hunter,W.R. (2006). Quantifying the environmental benefits of artificial reefs: an investigation into the ecological effects of habitat complexity and fisheries exclusion. MSc Thesis, University of Glasgow, 62pp.
Beaumont, J.C., Brown, C.J. and Sayer, M.D.J. (2007). Evaluation of techniques used in the assessment of subtidal epibiotic assemblage structure. Biofouling (in press)
Beaumont, J.C., Brown, C.J. and Sayer, M.D.J. (2007). Predation of developing epifaunal assemblages at artificial and natural reefs. Marine Ecology Progress Series (in submission)
Beaumont, J.C., Brown, C.J. and Sayer, M.D.J. (2007). Post-settlement processes control differences in epifaunal recruitment between artificial and natural reefs in Loch Linnhe. Marine Ecology Progress Series (in preparation)
Hunter, W.R. and Sayer, M.D.J. (2007). The relationship between habitat complexity and animal abundance on artificial reefs deployed in north temperate waters. ICES Journal of Marine Science (in preparation)
Beaumont, J.C., Brown, C.J. and Sayer, M.D.J. (2007). Changes in productivity associated with artificial reef construction and the influence of habitat complexity. Aquatic Conservation-Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems (in preparation)