The southernmost continent of Antarctica is the fifth largest continent and is the coldest and driest place on earth. Antarctica separated from the southern tip of the South American continent approximately 30 million years ago and has been isolated ever since. During this time, many of the marine animals living around Antarctica have evolved and are now different than any other animals in the world. These endemic animals are unique to Antarctica and include worms, molluscs, echinoderms, crustaceans and many others. Interestingly, several animals are believed to form continuous species all the way around the Antarctic continent, but this idea has never been rigorously tested.
This research effort is examining how some of these marine animals move or are genetically structured around Antarctica. To do this, we will use a combination of sampling gear to obtain marine invertebrates in the Bellingshausen, Amundsen and Ross Seas. In these areas, which include the most remote Seas on the planet, we will collect animals living at roughly 300-1000 m in depth. Once we get back home, we will use genetic (DNA) and morphological tools on these samples to determine the relationships of animals collected from different locations around Antarctica.
Main goals of this work include obtaining a better understanding on the biodiversity in these Seas (which is greatly underestimated) and assessing current patterns of variation on the genetic and morphological scales. We will also test the idea of circumpolar species mentioned above. Because the Western Antarctic is one of the most influenced regions on the planet because of anthropogenic climate change, we seek to develop a better understanding of where organisms currently live so that future shifts in their ranges can be determined.