Editorial Feature

Climate Change Affects Antarctic Silverfish Population in Western Antarctic Peninsula

The Antarctic Silverfish (Pleuragramma antarctica; Notothenioidei) is the only indigenous Southern Ocean fish with a fully pelagic life cycle, accounting for approximately 90% of adult and larval fish biomass in coastal parts of the Southern Ocean. Antarctic Silverfish is a significant prey for predators such as seals, penguins, seabirds, and other fishes due to their quantity and availability in the upper water column.

Antarctic, silverfish

Image Credit: I. Noyan Yilmaz/Shutterstock.com

Antarctic silverfish have a circumpolar existence, with a genetic linkage between populations along the continental shelf. The Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) region (Figure 1) lacks an Antarctic Slope Front Current, and this separates the Antarctic Silverfish group from other established sites of reproduction in the species.

Impact of the Amundsen Sea Low (ASL) on the West Antarctic environment. (a) Averaged environmental conditions for the duration of an especially weak (shallow; relative central pressure, RCP, of -6) ASL event during March–April–May (MAM) 1993. The ASL central location is marked by the black asterisk and the Palmer Antarctica Long-Term Ecological Research program study region and sampling stations are depicted by eight lines of small black dots. Sea ice concentration anomalies are color shaded and the MAM 1993 mean ice edge contour (solid black line) and long-term (1979–2019) mean contour (dotted black line) are also marked. Subsampled wind anomalies are shown in vector format. The negative sea-level pressure (SLP) anomalies are shown for the most negative feature during MAM 1993 (dashed concentric contours). (b) The same averaged environmental conditions and symbology as in (a) but for the duration of an especially strong (deep; RCP of -16) ASL event during MAM 1996. The wind-vector legend for both 1993 and 1996 is boxed in the lower right corner.

Figure 1. Impact of the Amundsen Sea Low (ASL) on the West Antarctic environment. (a) Averaged environmental conditions for the duration of an especially weak (shallow; relative central pressure, RCP, of −6) ASL event during March–April–May (MAM) 1993. The ASL central location is marked by the black asterisk and the Palmer Antarctica Long-Term Ecological Research program study region and sampling stations are depicted by eight lines of small black dots. Sea ice concentration anomalies are color shaded and the MAM 1993 mean ice edge contour (solid black line) and long-term (1979–2019) mean contour (dotted black line) are also marked. Subsampled wind anomalies are shown in vector format. The negative sea-level pressure (SLP) anomalies are shown for the most negative feature during MAM 1993 (dashed concentric contours). (b) The same averaged environmental conditions and symbology as in (a) but for the duration of an especially strong (deep; RCP of −16) ASL event during MAM 1996. The wind-vector legend for both 1993 and 1996 is boxed in the lower right corner. Image Credit: Corso, et al. 2022

The Southern Annular Mode (SAM), El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and Amundsen Sea Low (ASL) are the three atmospheric circulation patterns that have the most influence on climate change in the WAP region. Interconnections between them are complicated, seasonal, and linked to anthropogenic consequences such as global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Amundsen Sea Low (ASL), a climatologically low-pressure center in the Amundsen Sea (Figure 1), was only recently discovered as the primary driver of WAP ocean warming, sea ice loss, and glacier retreat over the past century.

The ASL’s strength and location influence meridional winds east and west of the ASL’s center (Figure 1a, b). Greater ASL events, for example, in the Amundsen Sea boost warm northerly airflow over the WAP region, reducing sea ice extent and concentration (Figure 1b) and increasing surface temperature along the WAP.

In this research, scientists looked at the interconnection between Antarctic Silverfish and the WAP environment over a two-decade period. Researchers specifically examined the effect of sea surface temperatures, sea ice dynamics, atmospheric circulation patterns, chlorophyll, and salinity on the vast quantities of larval Antarctic Silverfish. Researchers also use the findings of this study to forecast how regional pelagic food webs will respond to future climate change.

Results and Discussion

Researchers organized, recognized, and counted Antarctic Silverfish larvae (n = 7086) collected over 25 years between 1993 and 2017. Plankton net tows based on the Palmer Antarctica Long-Term Ecological Research (Palmer LTER) Program are depicted in Figure 2a.

As shown in Figure 2b, zero-inflated generalized linear mixed-effects model (GLMM) predictions show that the enormous amount of larvae during this period is closely related to ocean temperature, with higher abundance in colder water.

Relationships between sea surface temperature, sea ice, and Antarctic Silverfish abundance. (a) Positive (red; warmer temperatures) and negative (blue; cooler temperatures) anomalies in the standardized mean sea surface temperature (see “Methods”) for the Palmer LTER study region during austral summer (December, January, February). Standardized anomalies in mean annual larval Antarctic Silverfish abundance (larvae/1000 m3) that were captured during January and February are overlaid (black dotted line). (b, c) Predicted impact (solid black lines) on larval Antarctic Silverfish abundance from (b) sea surface temperature (p < 0.001) and (c) lagged day of sea ice advance (p < 0.001) from the model. Sea ice advance was temporally lagged in the model to align with life history patterns in adult Antarctic Silverfish abundance. The shaded regions represent the 95% prediction interval, which considers uncertainty from the fixed effects, zero-inflation, and random effects components of the final model.

Figure 2. Relationships between sea surface temperature, sea ice, and Antarctic Silverfish abundance. (a) Positive (red; warmer temperatures) and negative (blue; cooler temperatures) anomalies in the standardized mean sea surface temperature (see “Methods”) for the Palmer LTER study region during austral summer (December, January, February). Standardized anomalies in mean annual larval Antarctic Silverfish abundance (larvae/1000 m3) that were captured during January and February are overlaid (black dotted line). (b, c) Predicted impact (solid black lines) on larval Antarctic Silverfish abundance from (b) sea surface temperature (p < 0.001) and (c) lagged day of sea ice advance (p < 0.001) from the model. Sea ice advance was temporally lagged in the model to align with life history patterns in adult Antarctic Silverfish abundance. The shaded regions represent the 95% prediction interval, which considers uncertainty from the fixed effects, zero-inflation, and random effects components of the final model. Image Credit: Corso, et al. 2022

Figure 2a shows that at least two consecutive years of abnormally cold surface temperatures are required to produce peaks in larval abundance based on the time series.

As shown in Figure 2c, the timing of sea ice advance through austral autumn (March–May) influences larval abundance the very next year.

Adult fish spawn in late austral winter to early spring (July–September), eggs grow for about four months and fry hatch in November and December (Figure 3a). Adults then improve their nutritional status for a year before reproducing the following season.

Timeline with optimal and suboptimal conditions for Antarctic Silverfish reproduction near the western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). (a) A timeline of Antarctic Silverfish skip-spawning behavior and proposed relationships with Amundsen Sea Low (ASL) variability and sea ice advance. (b, c) Schematic of b optimal and c suboptimal environmental conditions for larval and spawning adult Antarctic Silverfish near the WAP. Northerly and westerly wind stresses are both modulated by the ASL strength (i.e., RCP) and location (i.e., latitude). Intrusions of Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) are associated with anomalous westerly winds; sea ice advance is influenced by a combination of wind stress, CDW, precipitation, and other factors; and near-surface water temperatures are determined by atmospheric heat, CDW intrusions, ice melt, and other factors.

Figure 3. Timeline with optimal and suboptimal conditions for Antarctic Silverfish reproduction near the western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). (a) A timeline of Antarctic Silverfish skip-spawning behavior and proposed relationships with Amundsen Sea Low (ASL) variability and sea ice advance. (b, c) Schematic of b optimal and c suboptimal environmental conditions for larval and spawning adult Antarctic Silverfish near the WAP. Northerly and westerly wind stresses are both modulated by the ASL strength (i.e., RCP) and location (i.e., latitude). Intrusions of Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) are associated with anomalous westerly winds; sea ice advance is influenced by a combination of wind stress, CDW, precipitation, and other factors; and near-surface water temperatures are determined by atmospheric heat, CDW intrusions, ice melt, and other factors. Image Credit: Corso, et al. 2022

Adult Antarctic Silverfish, according to the scientists, choose their spawning area depending in part on the presence of adequate sea ice cover at the time of austral autumn (Figures 2a and 3b, c). An initial advance of sea ice in late April or early May (Figure 2c) serves as a positive signal for transferring adults and enhances spawning habitat (Figure 3b).

If the spawning season is postponed, the spawning habitat is lowered (Figure 3c), which may cause adults to travel elsewhere or persist to postpone spawning. As a result, scientists predict that sea ice advances beginning around day 157 or earlier are required for spawning to happen successfully in this region.

The enormous amount of larval Antarctic silverfish was also strongly linked with the ASL relative central pressure (RCP), which is an index of ASL strength, and the ASL’s latitudinal location (Figure 4a).

A poleward ASL location was linked to lower spawning success, as evidenced by the lower abundance of larvae recorded the very next year (Figure 4b).

Predicted impact of Amundsen Sea Low relative central pressure and latitudinal location on larval Antarctic Silverfish abundance. (a, b) Predicted impact (solid black lines) on larval Antarctic Silverfish abundance from (a) the relative central pressure (RCP) of the Amundsen Sea Low (ASL) during austral autumn (March–April–May [MAM]; p = 0.006) and (b) the latitudinal location of the ASL during austral autumn (p = 0.004) from the model (see “Methods”). Smaller RCP values correspond with stronger (i.e., deeper) ASL events and smaller latitudinal values correspond with southward (i.e., poleward) locations of the ASL. The ASL RCPs and locations were temporally lagged in the model to align with life history patterns in adult Antarctic Silverfish abundance. The shaded regions represent the 95% prediction interval, which considers uncertainty from the fixed effects, zero-inflation, and random effects components of the final model. It is important to note only one value of ASL RCP was greater (less negative) than -4.5, which accounts for the increased uncertainty at less negative values (>-4.5). Additionally, we observed no significant collinearity between ASL RCP and latitude in this analysis.

Figure 4. Predicted impact of Amundsen Sea Low relative central pressure and latitudinal location on larval Antarctic Silverfish abundance. (a, b) Predicted impact (solid black lines) on larval Antarctic Silverfish abundance from (a) the relative central pressure (RCP) of the Amundsen Sea Low (ASL) during austral autumn (March–April–May [MAM]; p = 0.006) and (b) the latitudinal location of the ASL during austral autumn (p = 0.004) from the model (see “Methods”). Smaller RCP values correspond with stronger (i.e., deeper) ASL events and smaller latitudinal values correspond with southward (i.e., poleward) locations of the ASL. The ASL RCPs and locations were temporally lagged in the model to align with life history patterns in adult Antarctic Silverfish abundance. The shaded regions represent the 95% prediction interval, which considers uncertainty from the fixed effects, zero-inflation, and random effects components of the final model. It is important to note only one value of ASL RCP was greater (less negative) than −4.5, which accounts for the increased uncertainty at less negative values (>−4.5). Additionally, we observed no significant collinearity between ASL RCP and latitude in this analysis. Image Credit: Corso, et al. 2022

Methodology

The larval fishes used in this research were taken in accordance with Palmer LTER program protocols and acquired as preserved specimens cataloged in the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) Nunnally Ichthyology Collection.

Tows were conducted from the 600 grid line to the 200 grid line from 1993 to 2007. The “far south” lines (100, 000, and −100) were added to the Palmer LTER grid in 2008.

Scientists included extra tows conducted at Process Study stations located between grid lines from 1993 to 2017. The relationships remained unchanged when the researchers ran the final model without the Process Study and far south stations.

Due to the presence of two distinct dorsal pigment rows and an absence of abdominal pigmentation, Antarctic Silverfish is one of the most conveniently recognized of the known larval fishes endemic to the Southern Ocean.

Andrew D. Corso recognized the majority of the fishes to species level, and the remaining fishes were observed by Dr. Peter Konstantinidis of Oregon State University and other scientists affiliated with the VIMS Nunnally Ichthyology Collection.

Antarctic larval fishes exist in the upper 300 m of the water column. They were incidentally captured by Palmer LTER trawls targeting zooplankton (e.g., krill, salps, copepods). Depending on hypothesis testing, parsimony, and minimizing the Akaike information criterion (AIC), the final model was selected. Diagnostic residual plots were employed to analyze the model performance.

Conclusion

Since the Trophic relationships and life history of Antarctic Silverfish are mostly known from the Ross and Weddell seas, it will be crucial to further characterize this keystone fish’s role in the vulnerable WAP pelagic ecosystem.

This study also reveals the value and significance of long-term sampling programs as well as natural history collections. Curated time series of larval fishes are an important resource for determining the causes of adult population changes.

Ultimately, the ecosystem-level effects of climate change must be considered as part of air-sea interactions, such as the ASL, to more clearly foresee food web shifts and handle natural resources in the region.

Journal Reference:

Corso, A. D., Steinberg, D. K., Stammerjohn, S. E., Hilton, E. J. (2022) Climate drives long-term change in Antarctic Silverfish along the western Antarctic Peninsula. Communications Biology, 5, p. 104. Available Online: https://www.nature.com/articles/s42003-022-03042-3.

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Laura Thomson

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Laura Thomson

Laura Thomson graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with an English and Sociology degree. During her studies, Laura worked as a Proofreader and went on to do this full time until moving on to work as a Website Editor for a leading analytics and media company. In her spare time, Laura enjoys reading a range of books and writing historical fiction. She also loves to see new places in the world and spends many weekends looking after dogs.

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