Short Name:

A Multi-decadal Record of Antarctic Benthos: Image Analysis to Maximize Data Utilization

Antarctic benthic communities are characterized by many species of sponges (Phylum Porifera), long thought to exhibit extremely slow demographic patterns of settlement, growth and reproduction. This project will analyze many hundreds of diver and remotely operated underwater vehicle photographs documenting a unique, episodic settlement event that occurred between 2000 and 2010 in McMurdo Sound that challenges this paradigm of slow growth. Artificial structures were placed on the seafloor between 1967 and 1974 at several sites, but no sponges were observed to settle on these structures until 2004. By 2010 some 40 species of sponges had settled and grown to be surprisingly large. Given the paradigm of slow settlement and growth supported by the long observation period (37 years, 1967-2004), this extraordinary large-scale settlement and rapid growth over just a 6-year time span is astonishing. This project utilizes image processing software (ImageJ) to obtain metrics (linear dimensions to estimate size, frequency, percent cover) for sponges and other fauna visible in the photographs. It uses R to conduct multidimensional scaling to ordinate community data and ANOSIM to test for differences of community data among sites and times and structures. It will also use SIMPER and ranked species abundances to discriminate species responsible for any differences. This work focuses on Antarctic sponges, but the observations of massive episodic recruitment and growth are important to understanding seafloor communities worldwide. Ecosystems are composed of populations, and populations are ecologically described by their distribution and abundance. A little appreciated fact is that sponges often dominate marine communities, but because sponges are so hard to study, most workers focus on other groups such as corals, kelps, or bivalves. Because most sponges settle and grow slowly their life history is virtually unstudied. The assumption of relative stasis of the Antarctic seafloor community is common, and this project will shatter this paradigm by documenting a dramatic episodic event. Finally, the project takes advantage of old transects from the 1960s and 1970s and compares them with extensive 2010 surveys of the same habitats and sometimes the same intact transect lines, offering a long-term perspective of community change. The investigators will publish these results in peer-reviewed journals, give presentations to the general public and will involve students from local outreach programs, high schools, and undergraduates at UCSD to help with the analysis.

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