Measuring the effectiveness of protecting Southern Ocean sea floors with Antarctic sea urchins

Study offers approach for preserving Antarctica's most unique marine environments from impacts of climate change

Challenges abound in understanding, much less anticipating, the impacts of climate change on inhabitants of the Antarctic seafloor. But with implementation of a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) underway, this study applies nearly 7,000 Antarctic sea urchin records from the GBIF network as the basis for assessing the new conservation system's potential to protect the unique ecosystems and species of the Southern Ocean through the changes detailed in scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The seabeds of Antarctica are home to more than 40 highly diversified and widely distributed species of sea urchins. This richness provides the foundation for this study, as the authors combined environmental niche models for each individual echinoid species with climate scenarios to generate a set of 12 Antarctic and sub-Antarctic benthic ecoregions.

The resulting first-ever dynamic ecoregional map of the Southern Ocean's entire seafloor reveals the likelihood of far-reaching environmental changes in East Antarctica, on the Antarctic Peninsula and sub-Antarctic islands—each surpassed in severity by the prospect of the possible disappearance of the Campbell Plateau ecoregion. The future-facing findings also highlight the underrepresentation of the current Antarctic ecoregions from the MPA network.

By offering a flexible multidecadal framework for regional conservation and monitoring, this study offers a useful and responsive approach for preserving Antarctica's most unique marine environments from the changes ahead.

Fabri‐Ruiz S, Danis B, Navarro N, Koubbi P, Laffont R and Saucède T (2020) Benthic ecoregionalization based on echinoid fauna of the Southern Ocean supports current proposals of Antarctic Marine Protected Areas under IPCC scenarios of climate change. Global Change Biology. Wiley, 2161–2180. Available at: