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BIANZO project

Antarctica phase V (2000-2005)

BIANZO - Biodiversity of 3 representative groups of Antarctic Zoobenthos


The Convention on Biological Diversity has critically increased the awareness of the general lack of knowledge about the world biodiversity, especially the marine biodiversity. On the other hand, the implementation of the Madrid Protocol on Environmental Protection of the Antarctic requires a more comprehensive knowledge of Antarctic marine biodiversity and a better accessibility to the widely scattered biodiversity information. Current research programmes in Antarctic biology focussed in particular on the structure and dynamics of coastal and shelf ecosystems in the perspective of global changes (SCAR-EASIZ), and on the biodiversity of the totally unknown deep-sea habitats (ANDEEP).
Finally, several worldwide initiatives (like GBIF) have stressed the need for developing efficiently the biodiversity information management and promoted the development of comprehensive biodiversity databases.

Project description

The main goal of this study is to investigate the biodiversity of the Antarctic benthos through three representative faunal groups of different size categories: the nematodes (meiobenthos), the amphipod crustaceans (macrobenthos) and the echinids (megabenthos). The meiofaunal Nematodes are in terms of abundance the most important metazoan group in marine sediments. As their communities contain a large number of species, usually an order of magnitude greater than any other meiobenthic taxon, they are particularly suitable for tackling biodiversity and biogeography issues. Amphipods appear to be the most speciose animal group in Antarctic seas, and one of the most diverse in terms of modes of life, habitats, trophic types, and size spectra. Finally Echinoids constitute an often abundant and widely distributed component of the Antarctic communities, and offer important opportunities for symbiotic diversity.
Relying on the exploration of new or poorly known Antarctic regions, this study will first concentrate on the understanding of the nature and distribution of biodiversity, i.e. to take an inventory of the faunal components and to analyse their distribution with
respect to several gradients (depth, latitude or differences between basin).
The second objective aims at better understanding the ecofunctional role of biodiversity by analysing different dynamic aspects such as niche diversity, trophic types and role in food webs, reproduction patterns or biomass turnover.
The third objective concerns the development of a Biodiversity Information System for the Antarctic benthos, to make more effectively available to the scientific community and other users, the biodiversity knowledge acquired during previous studies or newly gained from the proposed research. This information system will include mapping applications and will rely on the extant or development databases of the three benthic taxa.

Field sampling of new material will benefit from different international Antarctic campaigns onboard RV Polarstern such as the ANDEEP or LAMPOS cruises in the Weddell Sea and along the Scotia Arc. Sampled material will be preserved for morphological and taxonomic purposes, for molecular approach, and for stable isotope analyses by mass spectrometry. It will also be compared to existing museum collections. Living material will also be collected and kept in cold rooms, in order to analyse different ecological
parameters such as food preferences, feeding or growth rates.

Interaction between the different partners
IRSNB-RUG-ULB will collaborate in field sampling and in the analysis and integration of data of common significance, each partner focussing on a different group of zoobenthos representative for a size class. ULg will work together with the other three ones in analysing stable isotopes on collected material, in order to delineate carbon and nitrogen fluxes within Antarctic benthic ecosystems.
The four partners will collaborate in the creation of a web portal which will connect the databases developed by each partner, and eventually other existing databases about Antarctic biodiversity.

Link with international programmes

  • SCAR-EASIZ, Ecology of the Antarctic Sea-Ice Zone;
  • ANDEEP, ANtarctic benthic DEEP-sea biodiversity;
  • LAMPOS, Latin-AMerica POlarstern Study;
  • SCAR-EVOLANTA, EVOLution in ANTArctica;
  • CoML-OBIS, Census of Marine Life - Ocean
  • Biogeographic Information System;
  • GBIF, Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

Expected results

  • An improved knowledge of the composition and biogeography of the three target benthic groups in some poorly known parts of the Southern Ocean shelf.
  • A detection of potential cryptic species (through molecular analyses) which could conduct to revise our current estimations of Antarctic species richness and our concept of generalised circumpolar distribution.
  • A discovery of the totally unknown deep-sea fauna from the continental slope and abyssal basins of the Scotia and Weddell seas.
  • An improved knowledge of some ecological aspects useful to understand the role of biodiversity in ecosystem functioning, such as niche diversity, trophic roles.
  • An improved knowledge of some biological aspects significant for the understanding of Antarctic biodiversitypatterns: life styles such as symbiosis, size spectra in the deep sea, reproduction and development.
  • New syntheses on taxonomy, faunistics, distribution and biogeography of selected groups of the Antarctic benthos through the development and concerted exploitation of comprehensive databases and mapping applications.
  • An implementation of extant databases on the biodiversity of the 3 target groups.

Complementary resources about this scientific project


IRSNB Will focus on different aspects of the biodiversity of Antarctic amphipods (morphological and molecular taxonomy, biogeography, ecofunctional diversity), and will implement the ANT'PHIPODA database (Biodiversity Reference Centre for Antarctic Amphipoda). It will also co-ordinate the project.
RUG Will concentrate on biodiversity features of Antarctic nematodes (diversity of communities, depth gradients, density and turnover). It will implement the NEMASLAN database (Biodiversity of Antarctic Nematodes).
ULB Will focus on the biodiversity of Antarctic echinoids, with a special interest for symbioses as a source of niches. It will also update its ANTARCTIC ECHINOID database.
ULg Will perform isotope ratio mass spectrometry analyses on field collected material to delineate the food webs wherein the 3 groups of target organisms are involved.

Contact information

Coordinator: Claude De Broyer
Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique (IRSNB)
29, rue Vautier
B-1000 Brussels
Tel: +32 (0)2 627 41 27
Fax: +32 (0)2 627 42 77

Partner 2: Ann Vanreusel
Universiteit Gent (RUG)
Vakgroep Biologie – Sectie Mariene Biologie
Krijgslaan 281- S 8
B-9000 Gent
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 52 15
Fax: +32 (0)9 264 53 44

Partner 3: Chantal De Ridder
Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)
Laboratoire Biologie Marine
CP 160/15
50, avenue F.D. Roosevelt
B-1050 Brussels
Tel: +32 (0)2 650 29 66
Fax: +32 (0)2 650 27 96

Partner 4: Jean-Marie Bouquegneau
University of Liège (ULg)
Laboratoire d’Océanologie
Sart Tilman B6
B-4000 Liège
Tel: +32 (0)4 366 33 21
Fax: +32 (0)4 366 33 25

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