The Climate Resilience project is taking shape
Dr Jesse van der Grient
There are a lot of different parts that come into play before we can try to estimate the potential effect of climate change on the Falkland Islands marine ecosystem. Baseline information is key in this, as we cannot know if our marine environment is changing when we do not know what it was before. Survey data is important to help us understand what is out there and when. We have been collecting zooplankton samples these last few months, and we are looking at the change in the community of zooplankton species over spring. In November, we saw lots of krill and copepods in samples that coloured our nets green because of the high phytoplankton concentrations in the water. Earlier this month, we went out and found a complete change in the community: lots of individuals of the amphipod species Themisto gaudichaudii, lots of lobster krill (Munida sp.), but far less phytoplankton and jellyfish, apart from one station. Here we found the jellies, and they were the biggest ones we had seen so far! This shows the importance of looking regularly at our oceans to see what is happening.
Left: green and red samples in November show it is spring. Right: the zooplankton community has changed, and we finally find lobster krill (Munida gregaria) in high numbers, but where are the jellyfish and fish larvae?
One other way to understand what our current ecosystem is like is via scientific publications. We have conducted an extensive review of the marine environment, ranging from phytoplankton to whales, to understand what data are available for diets and migration patterns. Both diet and migration can change over an organisms’ life, and we see lots of fish and squid species in our environment change in these regards. This review of the literature has been captured in a scientific publication that was recently accepted for publication in the Advances of Marine Biology. Evaluating these data are important to help understand our ecosystem, and they are already used in the project as a starting point for creating an ecosystem model. An ecosystem model is a mathematical simplification of how we think the food web works: who eats what and in what proportion, how quickly do populations grow? What time do they spend in the area of interest? etc. We are incredibly grateful for the collaboration with Tobias Büring from the Fisheries Department (FIFD) who has been an absolute star in helping this work move forward. The first instantiation of the model is a mass-balanced representation of the food web. That means that we are taking account of energy flows through the system (that is: who eats who in what proportion) and ensuring that no “magic” or unexpected energy is suddenly appearing in the model, as that would be incorrect! The next steps will be to incorporate time into this so we can simulate different climate change scenarios. Here, we can model animal responses to different climate change factors, and in our case that would be warming. Some of these responses are measured right here in the Falkland Islands up at the aquacultural facilities of Fortuna at Moody Brooke. Our experiments at Fortuna are continuing and we are excited to welcome bachelor student Gareth Price from the University of Portsmouth who will be helping over Christmas and who will be collecting data for his bachelor thesis. We are currently looking at urchins, snails, isopods, and limpet responses to warming. The last zooplankton survey trip allowed us to collect lots of lobster krill, and we would like to include these too in the upcoming experiments as lobster krill as a key species in the Falkland Islands marine food web. Lots to look forward to in 2023!
Above: lots of lobster krill, some of which are kept in our experimental tanks
Right: various snails, limpets, urchins, and isopods are present in the tanks.
It has been a privilege to talk about my upcoming work on climate change research in the Falkland Islands with the Falkland Islands Women Association. The ladies asked lots of great and interesting questions. Jesse further works on deep-sea mining in her spare time via her position in the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI). She gave a talk on deep-sea mining to the Falkland Islands Science and Humanities to highlight the latest complexities in this debate on resources in international waters. She further engaged in discussions and negotiations (online) during the International Seabed Authority Council meeting in November as part of DOSI, where the Mining Code that will regulate deep-seabed mining in international waters. Last, and reported in more detail elsewhere, Jesse had a wonderful time during the FICS CREST award fieldtrip, which she organised. Thank you to all the wonderful students, teachers and scientists for helping to make it such a great event.
As always, none of the work described above would have been possible without the tremendous help of all our partners, and I am grateful for the opportunities they provide. Thank you to FIFCA, FIG, FIFD, SMSG, OSU, and BAS for their continued support.