Seasonal variations in the zooplankton and ichthyoplankton community composition for the near-shore environment of the Falkland Islands

Funding bodies: University of Aberdeen, SAERI, Fortuna LTD, Darwin Plus, Shallow Marine Survey Group, Falkland Island Government (Falkland Island Fisheries, Environmental Studies Budget), Falkland Island Fishing Companies Association

PhD affiliations: University of Aberdeen, SAERI

Project overview

The role of coastal zooplankton, and the species that make up the zooplankton community around the Falkland Islands is poorly understood. Using a combination of morphology and molecular techniques (DNA barcoding and metabarcoding), this project aims to identify the species that make up the microzooplankton community of the Falkland Islands.

Previous studies have suggested the Falkland Island marine environment is known as a ‘wasp-waist’ ecosystem, where species at a mid-trophic level (in this instance, zooplankton) control the ecosystem dynamics (as opposed to bottom-up or top-down control). As such, there are expected keystone species within this community, including the lobster krill, Munida gregaria, and amphipod, Themisto gaudichaudii. During this project, zooplankton samples will be collected at regular intervals throughout the year in order to better understand the variation in the seasonal abundance and distribution of species within the macrozooplankton community as well as improve the knowledge and understanding of the role these organisms play within the wider ecosystem.

This project also aims to investigate the interactions between species within the zooplankton community, as this section of the food web is generally considered as a single stage, however, it is expected that the zooplankton species will form their own food web. These interactions will be quantified through the use of stable isotope analysis, which allows for measurements of the accumulation of key isotopes up the food web.

Project Objectives

  • Species Identification – Identify species within the Falkland Island macrozooplankton community using a combination of morphological and molecular identification techniques, and create a larval atlas of the ichthyoplankton (fish larvae) species of the Falkland Islands
  • Seasonality – Understand the variation in seasonal distribution and abundance of key species within the zooplankton community
  • Space – Understanding the effects of local oceanographic dynamics on zooplankton community structure
  • Keystone Species – Investigate the life history of the lobster krill, Munida gregaria
  • Zooplankton Food Web – Analyse the food web interactions within the zooplankton using stable isotope analysis methods

Rhian Taylor

Supervisors: Prof. Stuart Piertney, Dr Jesse van der Grient, Dr Paul Brickle, Dr Alex Douglas

Dates: Oct 2022 – Sept 2025
Rhian has a BSc in Applied Marine Biology from Bangor University and an MSc in Marine Biology from University College Cork. Between completing her degrees and starting her PhD, Rhian has worked a few jobs (largely trying to stay in the marine field) including working as a research assistant for the University of Canterbury, working as a long-term volunteer on Skomer Island, and working as a project assistant for a health software company. She has always been interested in the marine environment and was drawn to this project as she enjoys collecting samples in the field and using that to compare changes over a period of time. This project was particularly interesting as it also involves conducting research in an area with limited previous research, and so Rhian is excited to be able to contribute to information for the area.
Year in Review July 2022 - June 2023

I started my PhD in October 2022, and initially started by reading up on what research had been done on Falklands zooplankton to date – the short answer is: basically none. This made starting out very broad, but it does mean most of what I find out will be new information, which is exciting. I made my first visit to the Falklands in February 2023 to collect zooplankton and began to sort through and identify the species. There was a steep learning curve initially, as I had many different species of zooplankton to identify using available taxonomic keys – and the knowledge that these keys would not cover everything! In June I returned to Aberdeen to use DNA barcoding techniques to identify the species that had not been identified morphologically or were too similar to differentiate. It has been really exciting seeing the results coming in, and combining this information with the morphological identification to start to put together a species list for Falkland’s zooplankton
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