Biology Faculty Secure NSF Grant to Investigate Dwindling Macroalgae Community

UAB Department of Biology professors Dr. Charles Amsler and Dr. Jim McClintock, along with co-PIs Dr. Katrin Iken (University of Alaska, Fairbanks), Dr. Aaron Galloway (University of Oregon), and Dr. Andrew Klein (Texas A&M University), secured a $880,000 NSF grant to investigate brown macroalgae in the northern portion of the western Antarctic Peninsula region.

Dr. Charles Amsler and Dr. Jim McClintock

UAB Department of Biology professors Dr. Charles Amsler and Dr. Jim McClintock, along with co-PIs Dr. Katrin Iken (University of Alaska, Fairbanks), Dr. Aaron Galloway (University of Oregon), and Dr. Andrew Klein (Texas A&M University), secured a $880,000 NSF grant to investigate brown macroalgae in the northern portion of the western Antarctic Peninsula region.

Brown macroalgae form extensive undersea forests in the northern part of the western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) and play a key role in providing both physical structure and energy sources in shallow water communities. Further south on the WAP, these macroalgae become markedly less abundant and diverse, presumably because increased sea ice to the south reduces light available to the algae. This creates a fundamental change in ocean floor community processes and organization which impacts nutrition and food chain levels. As climate change has resulted in drastically reduced sea ice coverage in the southern WAP over the past 30 to 50 years, macroalgal communities typical of the northern part of the region should be expanding southward. In an effort to identify the extent and ramifications of the impact of this shift on the seafloor communities, a nine-person field team will travel to Antarctica in April and May 2019 to document the macroalgal communities and test hypotheses about the cause and consequences of the alteration of macroalgal communities. The field team consists of 3 UAB researchers - Dr. Charles Amsler, Maggie Amsler, and Sabrina Heiser, - as well 2 researchers with academic roots at UAB – Dr. Julie Schram and Dr. Katrin Iken. They hypothesize that increased sea ice cover along the region from north to south plays an important role in decreasing light available to the macroalgal communities. The team will use satellite data to choose study sites where variation in light due to differences in annual sea ice cover will be a major environmental variable. Their research should ultimately allow them to predict what community-level impacts might result from further changes in sea ice cover as a result of global climate change, which is already having other major impacts in the region.