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“The Omnivore’s Dilemma”: The effect of autumn diet on winter physiology and condition of juvenile

Updated: Apr 11, 2020

Antarctic krill is an essential species in the Southern Ocean, supporting vast numbers of marine mammals, seabirds and fishes, some of which feed almost exclusively on krill. Antarctic krill is also the subject of a rapidly growing fishery.

The success of the Antarctic krill population is largely determined by the ability of their young to survive the long, dark winter, where food is extremely scarce. In order to do this, young Antarctic krill must have a high-quality diet in autumn. However, warming in certain parts of Antarctica is changing the quality of the polar food web, resulting in a shift in the type of food available to young krill in autumn, creating the ultimate “omnivore’s dilemma”. **We do not yet know how this will affect their ability to survive the winter.**

Understanding changes in the Antarctic krill population in response to warming is critical both to the management of the krill fishery and to furthering knowledge about the resilience of the Antarctic ecosystem as a whole.

Due to logistical difficulties, studies on Antarctic krill physiology and condition over the fall and winter months are severely limited. Winter is a harsh time of year in Antarctica! There is an urgent need to increase scientific understanding of how different life stages of Antarctic krill survive the winter. Our research, funded by the US National Science Foundation (Grant 1753101), will fill an important gap in current knowledge on an understudied stage of the Antarctic krill life cycle, the 1-year old juveniles.

The results derived from this work will contribute to the development of improved bioenergetic, population and ecosystem models, and will advance current scientific understanding of this critical Antarctic species.

The team, led by Dr. Kim Bernard of Oregon State University (OSU), will leave the US on April 9th, 2019 to head south to Antarctica, via Chile, for the first of three winter field expeditions. This year's all-women team also includes OSU students Kirsten Steinke (Ph.D. candidate) and Julia Fontana (undergraduate Senior). We are excited to share our expedition and research with you!

Julia Fontana, Kim Bernard, and Kirsten Steinke

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