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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e58223. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058223. Epub 2013 Mar 4.

Evidence of macroalgal colonization on newly ice-free areas following glacial retreat in Potter Cove (South Shetland Islands), Antarctica.

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Departamento de Biología Costera, Instituto Antártico Argentino, Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Climate warming has been related to glacial retreat along the Western Antarctic Peninsula. Over the last years, a visible melting of Fourcade Glacier (Potter Cove, South Shetland Islands) has exposed newly ice-free hard bottom areas available for benthic colonization. However, ice melting produces a reduction of light penetration due to an increase of sediment input and higher ice impact. Seventeen years ago, the coastal sites close to the glacier cliffs were devoid of macroalgae. Are the newly ice-free areas suitable for macroalgal colonization? To tackle this question, underwater video transects were performed at six newly ice-free areas with different degree of glacial influence. Macroalgae were found in all sites, even in close proximity to the retreating glacier. We can show that: 1. The complexity of the macroalgal community is positively correlated to the elapsed time from the ice retreat, 2. Algae development depends on the optical conditions and the sediment input in the water column; some species are limited by light availability, 3. Macroalgal colonization is negatively affected by the ice disturbance, 4. The colonization is determined by the size and type of substrate and by the slope of the bottom. As macroalgae are probably one of the main energy sources for the benthos, an expansion of the macroalgal distribution can be expected to affect the matter and energy fluxes in Potter Cove ecosystem.

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