Chronobiology of changing Arctic Sea Ecosystems (CHASE)

Rational: The CHASE programme will address the core objective of the NERC Changing Arctic Ocean Program by seeking to understand and predict how ecologically important species will respond to climate change. As the Arctic Ocean is warming, zooplankton such as copepods and krill are undergoing habitat range extensions polewards. This will result in exposure to new and more extreme day-length (photoperiodic) climates of the higher latitudes – known in many terrestrial species to have negative consequences on fitness.

We will therefore aim to investigate the behaviour, physiology and genetic responses of copepods and krill to their natural and new photoperiodic environments. We will focus on the circadian biological clock, central in day-length measurement and in orchestrating key seasonal life-cycle events. Approach: To understand large scale ecosystem responses to climate change we need to mechanistically understand small scale individual responses of key organisms driving marine ecosystems and their functional biodiversity. High variability between individuals is an indicator for high adaptive capacity of the population to changing conditions. Due to the ecological relevance of key species their individual variability can give an indication of future ecosystem shifts. Our approach focuses on the two Arctic key zooplankton groups Calanus finmarchicus / Calanus glacialis (calanoid copepod) and Thysanoessa inermis (krill). We will: 1) characterize the Arctic light climate (spectrum, irradiance) with latitude and season; 2) determine individual copepod and krill behavioural phenotypes with latitude and season; 3) investigate photoperiod as a diapause trigger in copepods; 4) determine the metabolic status of behavioural phenotypes (identified above); 5) provide seasonal characterization of gene expression with a focus on clock mechanisms and the influence of light and; 6) provide indicator genes characteristic for specific life-cycle events, metabolic processes and environmental conditions as well as genetic timekeeping; 7) investigate the effects of light and genetic clock mechanisms on seasonal timing and how the factors may synergistically interact with other environmental and physiological factors and; 8) incorporate these data into life-cycle models to provide a wider, predictive framework for this work. We will combine a novel, but tested, approach to large scale behavioural screening of activity in copepods and krill with classical physiological investigations on fitness. Activity screening methodology adopted from Drosophila clock research will reveal diel behavioural cycles and rhythms as well as the change of these cycles/rhythms with different photoperiods. We will also use state-of-the-art genetic analyses to characterise the genetic traits of seasonal physiological changes and how light modulates circadian clock and clock related genes. Finally we will incorporate the behaviour, environment and physiological state into existing well-tested individual-based models and dynamic optimisation models to determine the predicted fitness costs of future Arctic climate change scenarios. Application and benefits: The balanced functioning of the Arctic ecosystem is reliant on the success of key zooplankton primary consumers which influence all higher trophic levels, from fish to whales. CHASE aims to understand how such key organisms function in this extreme environment and will develop the predictive tools necessary to assess how climate change will impact their populations in the future. This will be achieved through a combined sampling/experimental/modelling programe, thereby informing future scientific directions, critical in helping manage areas which are rapidly becoming more accessible to increasing resource exploitation. The project is embedded within international Arctic science networks based in the UK, Norway and Germany and will have a legacy of cooperation beyond the lifetime of the funding.

Grant reference
Natural Environment Research Council
Total awarded
£272,052 GBP
Start date
30 Jun 2018
3 years 6 months 1 day
End date
31 Dec 2021