Refugia and Ecosystem Tolerance in the Southern Ocean

In the framework of the new rECTO project, Iodine will be in charge of drafting a scoping study on bioeconomic modelling for the Southern Ocean. rECTO is funded by BELSPO (Belgian Science Policy Office), in the BRAIN-BE framework programme (Belgian Research Action Through Interdisciplinary Networks).


Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, OD Nature and

Université Libre de Bruxelles, Marine Biology Lab

Université de Liège, Laboratoire d’Océanologie – Centre MARE

Universiteit Gent, Marine Biology

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Laboratory of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Genomics

Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Marine Biology

British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge

Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle

Biogéosciences, Université de Bourgogne

Rationale of the research project :

Because of its long history and geographic isolation, the Southern Ocean (SO) provides a natural laboratory for research on evolution and biodiversity. Confronted with fast-paced environmental changes, biota in Antarctic ecosystems are strongly challenged and face three possible outcomes: adaptation, migration or extinction. Past glaciation periods have already forced marine zoobenthos of the SO into refugia, being either ice-free continental shelf areas, the deep sea or sub- or peri-Antarctic regions, followed by recolonization when the ice retreated. RECTO will strive at understanding how such past events have driven diversification and adaptation in different animal groups and how these can be applied as proxies to understand the contemporary situation and predict future scenarios. In a multidisciplinary approach and involving all major Belgian research groups studying evolution and diversity of SO faunas, RECTO will tackle 6 objectives by combining genomic data with morphological, phylogenetic, coalescent, fossil, ecological and modelling approaches. RECTO will focus on six different animal groups, comprising different trophic levels from the micro- over macro- benthos and pelagic crustaceans to fish and seabirds. The selected species differ in their biology, life histories and dispersal capacities, which are all factors affecting their abilities to cope with environmental changes. With a molecular approach, RECTO will produce data on population histories and Pleistocene refugia and test for possible correlations with past climate data to reconstruct how the target taxa responded to past glaciations and interglaciations. RECTO will also study in a novel phylogenetic framework how diversification and adaptability are interacting with each other and whether ecotypes of selected species have faster modes of evolution. Geographic models on future species and trait distributions based on physiological and energy limits and present and future climate data will be refined and integrated with coupled sea-ice-ocean and individual based models for the SO. Finally, scenarios of future dispersive abilities and possible habitat shifts of the RECTO target groups will be developed. To the best extent feasible, all RECTO data and results will be shared in open-access publications and public databases using appropriate standards. By including fossil records, RECTO will expand the temporal scope of existing Antarctic biodiversity information systems. The RECTO partners are strongly involved in the international Antarctic research community, which will facilitate the participation in Antarctic sampling campaigns, as well as the exchange and acquisition of specimens, samples and data. The RECTO partners will continue to establish long-term collaborations at the national and international levels.