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Curr Biol. 2013 Jul 22;23(14):1330-4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.05.051. Epub 2013 Jul 11.

Rapid glass sponge expansion after climate-induced Antarctic ice shelf collapse.

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Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung, Am Alten Hafen 26, 27568 Bremerhaven, Germany.


Over 30% of the Antarctic continental shelf is permanently covered by floating ice shelves, providing aphotic conditions for a depauperate fauna sustained by laterally advected food. In much of the remaining Antarctic shallows (<300 m depth), seasonal sea-ice melting allows a patchy primary production supporting rich megabenthic communities dominated by glass sponges (Porifera, Hexactinellida). The catastrophic collapse of ice shelves due to rapid regional warming along the Antarctic Peninsula in recent decades has exposed over 23,000 km(2) of seafloor to local primary production. The response of the benthos to this unprecedented flux of food is, however, still unknown. In 2007, 12 years after disintegration of the Larsen A ice shelf, a first biological survey interpreted the presence of hexactinellids as remnants of a former under-ice fauna with deep-sea characteristics. Four years later, we revisited the original transect, finding 2- and 3-fold increases in glass sponge biomass and abundance, respectively, after only two favorable growth periods. Our findings, along with other long-term studies, suggest that Antarctic hexactinellids, locked in arrested growth for decades, may undergo boom-and-bust cycles, allowing them to quickly colonize new habitats. The cues triggering growth and reproduction in Antarctic glass sponges remain enigmatic.

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