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PELAGANT project

Antarctica phase V (2000-2005)

PELAGANT - Status, control and role of the pelagic diversity of the Austral Ocean


The PELAGANT project is an interdisciplinary study of the key components of the Austral Ocean Pelagic Ecosystem and deals with the criteria for the appearance, maintenance, and modification of biodiversity. The diversity and dynamics of this ecosystem are particularly sensitive to variations in physical structure of the ocean and in ice coverage, and are affected by climate changes.
This research project is a contribution of Belgian science to international conventions on the maintenance and monitoring of the Antarctic ecosystem in a context of environmental and climatic changes (CCAMLR, SCAR, SO-GLOBEC).
The project is integrated with international Antarctic scientific programmes (e.g. Italy, Germany and France) where the pelagic diversity in the Austral Ocean is studied in an environmental and biological context.

Project description

1. To determine the distribution of Antarctic pelagic key-species in relation to the biotic and abiotic factors of the environment.
2. To analyse the pelagic diversity at the species, population and ecosystem levels.
3. To improve a conceptual and numerical ecohydrodynamical model of the Austral Ocean Pelagic Ecosystem in view of determining the stability of biotic assemblages, their sensitivity to the environmental constraints and especially the response to climate changes.

1. Banking of the relevant data to calibrate the models (data collection).
- Field acquisition and analysis, analysis and data compilation of historical collections on the distribution of pelagic organisms (especially ichthyoplankton and fishes) from targeted international Austral Ocean cruises.
- Taxonomic approach of ichthyoplankton.
- Storage in original dedicated database (PELAGANT) compatible with existing databases (Global Biodiversity Initiative Facility and/or FISHBASE).

2. Conceptualisation of the pelagic diversity and its spatio-temporal variations, with specific morphological and ecophysiological, genetic, and ecosystemological tools.
- Morphological and nutritional analysis of the ichthyoplankton at various developmental stages in view of their planktonic prey.
- Identification of “umbrella” fish species with complementary molecular markers and detailed statistical analysis.
- Statistical exploration of the pelagic assemblages in search of consistent patterns or systematic relationships between variables.
- Evolutionary analysis of large and small-scale population structure and dispersal of target fish species with molecular markers.

3. Development of a specific model of the Pelagos Ecosystem.
- Implementation of a 1D plankton/hydrodynamical/ice plankton sub-model and adaptation for multiannual purposes.
- Development of multi-annual sub-models of population dynamics for ichthyoplankton and adult fish.
- Coupling of the sub-models and simulation of environmental changes.

Interaction between the different partners
- The use of a molecular approach as a support for taxonomic identification of fish eggs and larvae, in those cases where morphologic identification is impossible or unreliable;
- The integration of the [zooplankton to fish] levels and the functional role of each taxon in the ecosystem modelling approach.

Expected results and/or products
- Knowledge on the pelagic species of the Austral Ocean, their spatial and temporal distribution and a recognition of the major pelagic assemblages and links with the habitats.
- A genetic molecular support of morphological identification of fish larvae.
- A description of the phylogeographical pattern of selected fish species.
- A pilot study on the dispersal dynamics of selected fish species.
- A new conceptual view on the interactions between the species in the pelagic assemblages, the large-scale distribution of pelagic assemblages and an estimation of the effects of biotic and abiotic factors on this distribution.
- A numerical modelling tool of the pelagic system, taking into account the pelagic diversity, applicable to the sampling strategy and able to test the level of stability and resilience of the pelagic assemblages in reaction to local environmental changes.

The results of the research will be available for the international community by publications in specialised journals and presentations at (inter)national meetings. The international diffusion of the integrated database produced by the research will be the target of a specific action of valorisation (creation of an international Austral Ocean plankton data centre). For that reason, the criteria of formatting the data base will follow the Global Biodiversity Initiative Facility (metafiles) and more specifically FISHBASE.

Complementary resources about this scientific project


ULg Conceptual and numerical modelling of the pelagic ecosystem. Quantitative and qualitative techniques in phyto- and zooplankton estimation.
KULeuven Fish ecology and evolution, biodiversity and ecosystem modelling.

Contact Information

Coordinator: Jean-Henri Hecq
Université de Liège (ULg)
Sart-Tilman - Chemistry B6c
B-4000 Liège
Tel: +32 (0)4 366 36 46
Fax: +32 (0)4 366 23 55

Partner 2: Filip Volckaert
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KULeuven)
Laboratorium voor Aquatische Ecologie
Ch. de Bériotstraat 32
B-3000 Leuven
Tel: +32 (0)16 32 39 72
Fax: +32 (0)16 32 45 75

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