Sub-tidal Ecology and Biogeography of the Falkland Islands

Funding Bodies: CDS Fund (FIG), John Cheek Trust & RBC Ltd

Affiliations: University of Aberdeen, SAERI

Collaborators: British Antarctic Survey, University of Magallanes (Punta Arenas) and University of Chile (Santiago)

PhD Project Overview

This PhD project will investigate the shallow sub-tidal biodiversity of the Falkland Islands at depths of 0-5m, both spatially and temporally. Additionally, Hummock Island (West Falkland) will be used as a case study to investigate the effects of eroded peat soil on the shallow benthic community structure. Finally, two Falkland sea stars with contrasting life histories (Anasterias antarctica and Cosmasterias lurida)  will be used to investigate population connectivity and phylogeographic structure across the Southern Cone. This will contribute to previous studies that suggest the Falkland Islands acted as a ‘refugium’ for marine life during periods of recent Pleistocene glaciation, influencing contemporary population structures.

Project Objectives

  • Quantifying shallow benthic community structure over spatial scales at various sites around the Falkland Islands
  • Identify temporal influences on shallow benthic community structure around the Falkland Islands
  • Investigate eroded peat soil in the Hummock Island shallow subtidal and its effects on the marine community structure
  • Establish shallow subtidal biogeography of the ‘Southern Cone’ (Falkland Islands, Straits of Magellan and the Beagle Channel) and South Georgia (currently delayed due to pandemic restrictions)
  • Evaluate contemporary and paleo population connectivity of two model marine invertebrates to help identify the role of Pleistocene glaciations in forging population structure

Amy Guest

Dates: Feb 2021 - Aug 2024

Supervisors: Prof Stuart Piertney, Dr Paul Brickle and Dr Alex Douglas
I have always been drawn to the great outdoors and its wildlife, and luckily these things weren’t difficult to find in both Scotland and the Falkland Islands, where I grew up. I also had an interest in the sciences, and so naturally I steered towards an environmental science-related career. In 2019 I received my BSc (Hons) Biology which included an ‘Industry Year’, where I worked as a research assistant here at SAERI. Following various other volunteer opportunities, I spent a year as a Scientific Fisheries Observer for the Falkland Islands Government, which introduced me to the broad spectrum of marine life present in the islands, and paved the way for me to return to SAERI for my PhD (via University of Aberdeen). As someone who calls the Falklands my home, I feel very lucky to be studying and researching the local marine environment for a job.
Hummock Team
Highlights for July 2020- June 2021

I began my PhD in mid-February 2021, following a two-week dive survey trip to Hummock Island with members of the Shallow Marine Surveys Group (SMSG). This expedition was definitely a highlight to kick-start the PhD and test my marine fauna ID skills, with almost-perfect weather conditions too, which is rare in the Falklands!
Between March and June 2021, I carried out a two-month internship at the prestigious Natural History Museum with Professor Juliet Brodie, firstly working remotely and then travelling to London to complete the internship in the laboratory. There, I extracted DNA from herbarium algae specimens for sequencing purposes, which were collected from South Georgia in 2010. This was my first experience of working in a lab outside of my undergraduate degree training, so I learnt skills that will be really valuable for the final chapter of my PhD. It felt slightly surreal at times to walk past the huge blue whale skeleton in the main hall on a daily basis, with a staff ID - definitely a highlight of my entire life, not just this year! Plus, strict Covid-19 restrictions were enforced at that time, so it was also interesting to experience it all with fewer people around.
Highlights for July 2022- June 2023

Data collection continued for my PhD in the 2022-2023 year, with the regular SCUBA quadrat surveys across the four regular sites between Port William and Cochon Island. The spring season in particular offered some beautiful photo opportunities with the underwater cameras besides the project quadrat photos! As always, this work is possible thanks to the Shallow Marine Surveys Group volunteer divers and underwater camera gear. Visibility was fairly poor due to an increase in productivity in the water at that time of year, but thankfully the water temperature had increased a few degrees from the winter season dives. After diving, jobs included filling out data sheets as well as editing and analysing photos.
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