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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13325

Flexibility in Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) decouples diet and recruitment from overwinter sea-ice conditions in the northern Antarctic Peninsula

Jennifer Walsh*, Christian S. Reiss, George M. Watters

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Winter sea-ice conditions are considered important for Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) survival and recruitment; yet, few broad-scale longitudinal studies have examined the underlying relationships between winter conditions and krill recruitment. We used data from a four-year winter study of krill condition (lipid content), diet (stable isotopes and fatty acids), and length distributions around the northern Antarctic Peninsula to examine relationships among environmental variables (annual sea-ice cover, water-column Chl-a, and upper mixed-layer water temperature), the condition and diet of krill, and recruitment success the following year. Diet indicators (lipid content, δ15N, δ13C, and the fatty acid ratios 16:1n-7/18:4n-3 and 18:1n-9/18:1n-7) in post-larvae were consistent among years regardless of sea-ice cover, suggesting that post-larval krill do not rely on sea-ice resources for overwinter survival. Diet indicators in larvae were more variable and suggest that larvae may feed on sea-ice resources when they are available but can make a living in the water column when they are not. Principal Component Analysis between environmental variables and diet indicators showed that water-column Chl-a was the only variable that significantly affected diet, regardless of annual changes in sea-ice cover. Extensive winter ice in one year did not translate into successful recruitment the following year. Krill demonstrate a high degree of flexibility with respect to overwinter habitat and diet, and the degree to which sea ice is important during different times of year and at different life stages may be more complex than previously thought.