Video | Business Headlines | Internet | Science | Scientific Ethics | Technology | Search


Bottom-up research to understand Antarctic predator diets

media release

Bottom-up research to understand Antarctic predator diets

Click for big version.
Cawthron Institute Senior Scientist Jonathan Banks at work in Antarctica.

A Nelson scientist specialising in faecal DNA, is applying his unique expertise to an international research project into the impacts of climate change and commercial fishing on Anarctica’s top predators.
Cawthron Institute Senior Scientist Jonathan Banks has spent the past three weeks researching how the pressures of climate change and commercial fishing are affecting the diets of three key predators in the Ross Sea, as part of an NZARI (New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute) funded project. He returned to Nelson on Monday(6 January).

“As fishing pressure is increasing we need to understand what these species are eating and how fishing activity will affect the top predators in Antarctica,” Dr Banks says.

He is one of nine researchers working on the year-long project, studying the diets of killer whales, Weddell seals and Adélie penguins to help in understanding critical food resources needed for their survival. The team’s research will also provide reference points for detecting future changes, and allow for responsible management of the Ross Sea.

While in Antarctica the team visited seal and penguin colonies spread over a 40km area, to collect faecal matter from which Dr Banks extracted DNA to bring back to Cawthron Institute laboratories for analysis. They also ice fished for fish samples that Dr Banks could compare with the faecal DNA.

“I’ll match the DNA sequences from the poo, with the DNA sequences from the fish samples and then we’ll know what they’re eating.”

Working from a small laboratory at Antarctica New Zealand's Scott Base, Dr Banks extracted approximately 5 millilitres, or one teaspoon, of DNA in total from around 50 different animals. The DNA samples were transported back to New Zealand in separate vials each containing about 0.5 millilitres of faecal DNA.

Scientists from the Smithsonian Institution, University of Tasmania, NIWA, Landcare Research, University of Auckland, Lincoln University and University of Canterbury are all working on the project. Its principal investigator is Dr Regina Eisert from Gateway Antarctica at the University of Canterbury.

“Climate change and commercial fishing are two potential drivers of change in the Ross Sea, but our ability to predict or manage impacts is limited by lack of information,” Dr Eisert says.

“Antarctic top predators integrate complex changes in the physical and biological conditions affecting their food resources, making them ideal sentinels for the state of the Ross Sea ecosystem."

She says their work will address crucial gaps in understanding of the Ross Sea ecosystem and its vulnerability to external drivers of climate change and fisheries and “will challenge paradigms regarding dependencies of the Ross Sea’s top predators on krill, silverfish, and toothfish”.

It is Dr Banks’ eighth trip to Antarctica. Previously he has studied penguin lice to understand their evolution, and used genetics to identify the faecal bacterial communities of seals, penguins and skuas.

At Cawthron, he works on faecal source tracking, working with councils throughout New Zealand to identify the sources of faecal contamination in marine and freshwater environments.

His methods are so precise that, through DNA finger printing, he is able to identify the source of faecal contamination in a river, lake or sea, down to the species responsible.

“The benefit of being able to target specific sources of contamination is that it saves the councils time and money. It’s a very efficient and effective method.”

Prior to his trip to Antarctica he was in Edmonton, Canada, researching the genetics of the Pacific oyster virus.

“I was walking to work in minus 25 degrees and was looking forward to my trip to Antarctica so I could warm up in minus 5 degrees!”


© Scoop Media

Business Headlines | Sci-Tech Headlines


Shocking Dairy Footage: MPI Failing Our Animals And Damaging Our Reputation

Greens “Nathan Guy needs to urgently look into how his ministry is enforcing animal welfare standards, how these appalling incidents happened under its watch and what it’s going to do prevent similar incidents happening again in the future." More>>


Land & Water Forum: Fourth Report On Water Management

The Land and Water Forum (LWF) today published its fourth report, outlining 60 new consensus recommendations for how New Zealand should improve its management of fresh water and calling on the Government to urgently adopt all of its recommendations from earlier reports. More>>



Welcome Home: Record High Migration Stokes 41-Year High Population Growth

New Zealand annual net migration hit a new high in October as more people arrived from than departed for Australia for the first time in more than 20 years. More>>


Citizens' Advice Bureau: Report Shows Desperate Housing Situation Throughout NZ

CAB's in-depth analysis of over 2000 client enquiries about emergency accommodation shows vulnerable families, pregnant women and children living in cars and garages, even after seeking assistance from the Ministry of Social Development and Housing New Zealand. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news