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  1. Abstract Background

    Despite exhibiting one of the longest migrations in the world, half of the humpback whale migratory cycle has remained unexamined. Until now, no study has provided a continuous description of humpback whale migratory behavior from a feeding ground to a calving ground. We present new information on satellite-derived offshore migratory movements of 16 Breeding Stock G humpback whales from Antarctic feeding grounds to South American calving grounds. Satellite locations were used to demonstrate migratory corridors, while the impact of departure date on migration speed was assessed using a linear regression. A Bayesian hierarchical state–space animal movement model (HSSM) was utilized to investigate the presence of Area Restricted Search (ARS) en route.


    35,642 Argos locations from 16 tagged whales from 2012 to 2017 were collected. The 16 whales were tracked for a mean of 38.5 days of migration (range 10–151 days). The length of individually derived tracks ranged from 645 to 6381 km. Humpbacks were widely dispersed geographically during the initial and middle stages of their migration, but convened in two convergence regions near the southernmost point of Chile as well as Peru’s Illescas Peninsula. The state–space model showed almost no instances of ARS along the migratory route. The linear regression assessing whethermore »departure date affected migration speed showed suggestive but inconclusive support for a positive trend between the two variables. Results suggestive of stratification by sex and reproductive status were found for departure date and route choice.


    This multi-year study sets a baseline against which the effects of climate change on humpback whales can be studied across years and conditions and provides an excellent starting point for the investigation into humpback whale migration.

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  2. Abstract

    Uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by the surface ocean is leading to global ocean acidification, but regional variations in ocean circulation and mixing can dampen or accelerate apparent acidification rates. Here we use a regional ocean model simulation for the years 1980 to 2013 and observational data to investigate how ocean fluctuations impact acidification rates in surface waters of the Gulf of Alaska. We find that large-scale atmospheric forcing influenced local winds and upwelling strength, which in turn affected ocean acidification rate. Specifically, variability in local wind stress curl depressed sea surface height in the subpolar gyre over decade-long intervals, which increased upwelling of nitrate- and dissolved inorganic carbon-rich waters and enhanced apparent ocean acidification rates. We define this sea surface height variability as the Northern Gulf of Alaska Oscillation and suggest that it can cause extreme acidification events that are detrimental to ecosystem health and fisheries.

  3. Abstract

    Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are a cosmopolitan species and perform long annual migrations between low-latitude breeding areas and high-latitude feeding areas. Their breeding populations appear to be spatially and genetically segregated due to long-term, maternally inherited fidelity to natal breeding areas. In the Southern Hemisphere, some humpback whale breeding populations mix in Southern Ocean waters in summer, but very little movement between Pacific and Atlantic waters has been identified to date, suggesting these waters constituted an oceanic boundary between genetically distinct populations. Here, we present new evidence of summer co-occurrence in the West Antarctic Peninsula feeding area of two recovering humpback whale breeding populations from the Atlantic (Brazil) and Pacific (Central and South America). As humpback whale populations recover, observations like this point to the need to revise our perceptions of boundaries between stocks, particularly on high latitude feeding grounds. We suggest that this “Southern Ocean Exchange” may become more frequent as populations recover from commercial whaling and climate change modifies environmental dynamics and humpback whale prey availability.

  4. Abstract

    Since the middle of the past century, the Western Antarctic Peninsula has warmed rapidly with a significant loss of sea ice but the impacts on plankton biodiversity and carbon cycling remain an open question. Here, using a 5-year dataset of eukaryotic plankton DNA metabarcoding, we assess changes in biodiversity and net community production in this region. Our results show that sea-ice extent is a dominant factor influencing eukaryotic plankton community composition, biodiversity, and net community production. Species richness and evenness decline with an increase in sea surface temperature (SST). In regions with low SST and shallow mixed layers, the community was dominated by a diverse assemblage of diatoms and dinoflagellates. Conversely, less diverse plankton assemblages were observed in waters with higher SST and/or deep mixed layers when sea ice extent was lower. A genetic programming machine-learning model explained up to 80% of the net community production variability at the Western Antarctic Peninsula. Among the biological explanatory variables, the sea-ice environment associated plankton assemblage is the best predictor of net community production. We conclude that eukaryotic plankton diversity and carbon cycling at the Western Antarctic Peninsula are strongly linked to sea-ice conditions.

  5. Abstract Over the last half of the 20 th century, the western Antarctic Peninsula has been one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth, leading to substantial reductions in regional sea ice coverage. These changes are modulated by atmospheric forcing, including the Amundsen Sea Low (ASL) pressure system. We utilized a novel 25-year (1993–2017) time series to model the effects of environmental variability on larvae of a keystone species, the Antarctic Silverfish ( Pleuragramma antarctica ). Antarctic Silverfish use sea ice as spawning habitat and are important prey for penguins and other predators. We show that warmer sea surface temperature and decreased sea ice are associated with reduced larval abundance. Variability in the ASL modulates both sea surface temperature and sea ice; a strong ASL is associated with reduced larvae. These findings support a narrow sea ice and temperature tolerance for adult and larval fish. Further regional warming predicted to occur during the 21st century could displace populations of Antarctic Silverfish, altering this pelagic ecosystem.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
  6. The pteropod (pelagic snail) Limacina helicina antarctica is a dominant grazer along the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) and plays an important role in regional food web dynamics and biogeochemical cycling. For the first time, we examined the gut microbiome and feeding ecology of L. h. antarctica based on 16S and 18S rRNA gene sequences of gut contents in the WAP during austral summer. Eukaryotic gut contents of L. h. antarctica indicate that this species predominantly feeds on diatoms and dinoflagellates, supplementing its diet with ciliates and foraminifera. Mollicutes bacteria were a consistent component of the gut microbiome. Determining the gut microbiome and feeding ecology of L. h. antarctica aids in identifying the underlying mechanisms controlling pteropod abundance and distribution in a region of rapid environmental change.
  7. Abstract. Heterotrophic marine bacteria utilize organic carbon for growth and biomass synthesis. Thus, their physiological variability is key to the balancebetween the production and consumption of organic matter and ultimately particle export in the ocean. Here we investigate a potential link betweenbacterial traits and ecosystem functions in the rapidly warming West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) region based on a bacteria-oriented ecosystemmodel. Using a data assimilation scheme, we utilize the observations of bacterial groups with different physiological traits to constrain thegroup-specific bacterial ecosystem functions in the model. We then examine the association of the modeled bacterial and other key ecosystemfunctions with eight recurrent modes representative of different bacterial taxonomic traits. Both taxonomic and physiological traits reflect thevariability in bacterial carbon demand, net primary production, and particle sinking flux. Numerical experiments under perturbed climate conditionsdemonstrate a potential shift from low nucleic acid bacteria to high nucleic acid bacteria-dominated communities in the coastal WAP. Our studysuggests that bacterial diversity via different taxonomic and physiological traits can guide the modeling of the polar marine ecosystem functionsunder climate change.
  8. Leroy, Boris (Ed.)