UNCW Researchers Receive Grant to Study Climate Change’s Impact on Crabeater Seals in Antarctica

UNCW Researchers Receive Grant to Study Climate Changes Impact on Crabeater Seals in Antarctica

Study aims to understand the physiological effects of climate change on crabeater seals’ health and reproductive hormones.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) have been awarded a significant grant of nearly $60,000 to investigate the physiological impacts of climate change on crabeater seals in Antarctica. Led by Assistant Professor of Biology and Marine Biology, Michael Tift, and supported by UNCW Ph.D. student Anna Pearson, the study aims to shed light on how climate change, specifically sea ice loss and changes in prey availability, is affecting the health and reproductive hormones of these seals. This research is crucial in understanding the long-term consequences of climate change on Antarctic ecosystems.

Investigating the Decline of Antarctic Krill

Antarctic krill make up approximately 90 percent of the crabeater seals’ diet, making them highly dependent on the abundance of these crustaceans. However, over the past few decades, the population of Antarctic krill has steadily decreased due to both sea ice loss and commercial krill fishing. This decline in krill availability has raised concerns about the impact on the overall health and survival of crabeater seals, as their primary food source diminishes. By studying the physiological responses of these seals, researchers hope to gain insight into the broader implications of climate change on Antarctic ecosystems.

Long-Term Dataset for Comprehensive Analysis

To understand the changes in stress and reproductive hormones in crabeater seals, the researchers plan to analyze samples collected from the 1950s to 2023. By examining historical tooth samples from the mid-20th century and whisker samples collected more recently, the team aims to create a comprehensive dataset that spans several decades. This long-term dataset will provide valuable information on how the health and well-being of crabeater seals have been affected by climate change over time.

Novel Method for Hormone Analysis

One of the key aspects of this research is the development of a novel method to measure stress and reproductive hormones in crabeater seals. The team plans to use teeth collected from the 1950s to the 1990s, along with whisker samples collected in 2007, 2022, and 2023. This innovative approach will allow researchers to analyze historical samples and explore new avenues for hormone analysis. Anna Pearson, the Ph.D. student involved in the study, will be traveling to the UK to collaborate with the British Antarctic Survey to initiate these analyses. This international collaboration will further enhance the research and foster connections between scientists working in the field of climate change and its impact on marine mammals.

The Importance of Grant Funding for Marine Research

The grant awarded to UNCW researchers by the Marine Mammal Commission is a testament to the significance and urgency of studying the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems. Out of 84 proposals, only seven grants were awarded, highlighting the competitive nature of marine research funding. The support from the Marine Mammal Commission allows scientists to conduct essential research that contributes to our understanding of the complex interactions between climate change and marine life.

Conclusion:

The research conducted by UNCW researchers on the physiological impacts of climate change on crabeater seals in Antarctica is a crucial step in understanding the long-term consequences of climate change on marine ecosystems. By analyzing stress and reproductive hormones in crabeater seals, the team hopes to gain valuable insights into how these animals are adapting to changing environmental conditions. This research not only contributes to our understanding of the effects of climate change but also highlights the importance of international collaborations and grant funding in advancing marine research. As climate change continues to pose significant threats to our planet, studies like this are essential in informing conservation efforts and promoting sustainable practices to protect our fragile ecosystems.