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Historical abundance and distributions of Salpa thompsoni hot spots in the Southern Ocean and projections for further ocean warming

1. In contrast to Antarctic krill Euphausia superba, Antarctic salps (Salpa thompsoni) respond positively to warmer water temperatures and have the ability to create massive blooms under favourable conditions. Therefore, they can compete with krill for primary production. Over the last three decades, significant variability in S. thompsoni occurrence has been observed as a response to the environmental fluctuations of the Southern Ocean ecosystem (e.g. changes in sea surface temperature and ice-cover shrinkage around the cold Antarctic waters). 2. This study presents historical abundance data of salps from the south-west Atlantic Sector of the Southern Ocean, covering a time span of 26 years. These data allow tracking of fluctuations in Antarctic salp abundance and their distribution with bottom depth, temperature, and ice conditions, aiming to reveal salp hot spots and to predict the future range of S. thompsoni distribution with upcoming climate warming in the next 50 years. 3. Results showed the highest salp density in shallow shelf waters with ice cover and low temperatures between 1 and −1° C. In the studied area, S. thompsoni hot spots were located mostly around Elephant Island, but also the islands around Brensfield and Gerlache Straits, as well as to the south near the Bellingshausen Sea. Inferences made of future salp distribution suggest that the range of S. thompsoni will move southwards, enlarging their habitat area by nearly 500,000 km2, which may have significant implications on the whole Antarctic food web. The information presented herein may be used for Antarctic ecosystem management, protection, and conservation.

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