13th February 2015
My name is Anthony Crook, I am an ex Newcastle University student having studied BSc Marine Zoology and then MSc Ecological Consultancy in the fine city of Newcastle Upon Tyne. During my time at Newcastle I have been fortunate enough to study marine biology in many different countries and in a range of ecosystems including such delights as the rocky intertidal in Millport, Scotland and Monte Clerigo, Portugal and coral reefs in the Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia. Now I find myself, a ‘southerner’ by nature, having journeyed further south than most! I am studying benthic marine invertebrates in the coldest, driest, highest and windiest continent on Earth….Antarctica!
I have just arrived in Rothera, at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Research Station, located on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula (67° 34.5’ S, 68° 07.0’ W). I started my adventure in my hometown of Eastbourne, where on the morning of my departure I visited the house of the great Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton. As I walked down the path from his house, I was literally walking in his footsteps! My journey here took 38 hours of continuous travel on 5 different airplanes! Still slightly quicker than Shackletons’ voyage I imagine!
After an incredible final flight over the Antarctic Peninsula from Chile, the first thing that struck me on arrival to the station, besides the stunning views of icebergs and snowy mountains, was the smell of the elephant seals! Around 6 adolescent males were piled up seeking shelter next to the sewage treatment plant ironically. Immediately the resident plumber blamed the smell on the seals, but I’m not sure as the sewage system was apparently experiencing some technical difficulties!
I am working as a research assistant for my previous tutor (Ben Wigham) who has an on-going research project with BAS. The research will go towards the Rothera Oceanographic and Biological Time-Series (RaTS) which is a key component of the BAS Ecosystems Programme and has been collecting data on seasonal and interannual variability in reproductive biology and feeding activity of selected marine invertebrates since 1997.
Whilst there has been a lot of research related to food-web structure in Antarctic shallow-water benthic communities there has been less research focused on the trophic relationships and linkages within these benthic communities especially with regard to specific isotopic turnover rates for these often endemic organisms. Understanding carbon flow and trophic linkages in the context of a food-web is a fundamental requisite in determining future ecosystem-wide changes to community structure and function.
The Science-y bit!
I am in charge of running a 45 day long diet-switch laboratory experiment to determine the isotopic turnover rate in the tissues of two functionally different taxa, Laternula elliptica (Clam – suspension feeder) and Odontaster validus (Starfish – predator/scavenger). I have 72 individuals of each species in aquarium tanks in the state of the art marine laboratory down here in Rothera. I am feeding the Odontaster on a diet of tinned ham and the Laternula on a diet of phytoplankton. At specific time intervals (5d, 10d, 15d, 20d, 30d, 40d, 45d) 6 animals of each species will be sacrificed, specific tissues will be dissected and frozen. These frozen tissues samples will then be shipped back to the UK where they will undergo stable isotope analysis. By knowing the isotopic signature of the diets it is possible to infer the isotopic turnover rates of the different tissues in the organisms.
The dive team have already hand-selected my specimens from the local dive sites and the marine assistant has set up my experiment layout in the aquarium, so the 2-day acclimatisation process is well underway! I will be dissecting my control (day 0) specimens later on today!
Next update will be about what it is like to live in Antarctica on a scientific research station and reports of my progress with the experiment!
Hope all is well up North!