Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Polar zooplankton and fish safeguard against the seasonality of food availability by using the summer months to build large reserves of lipids, which in turn are utilized to meet the metabolic demands of apex predators such as penguins, seals, and whales. A warming trend in the northern part of the western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) has led to a decrease in perennial and summer sea ice, an increase in heat content over the shelf, and lower phytoplankton biomass, which could affect prey quality. We compared prey quality, including elemental (C, N) content and ratios, total, neutral, and polar lipid content, and energy densities, of known top-predator prey items (krill Euphaush1 superba, 17Jysanoessa macrura, and Euphausia crystallorophias; and fish Pleuragramma antarcticum, and Electrona antarctica) along the W AP latitudinal gradient in January of 2009-20 II as part of the Palmer Antarctica Long-Term Ecological Research study. E. antarctica had the highest prey quality in terms of total lipid content and energy density, followed by T. macrura and P. antarcticum, then E. c1ystallorophias and E. superba. For all species, variations in carbon and nitrogen content were best correlated with by the animals' neutral lipid content, in that animals with larger neutral lipid stores had significantly higher carbon and lower nitrogen content. Across all sexes and maturity stages, E. superba in the South had ca. 20% higher total lipid content than E. superba in the North. Total lipid content was also significantly higher in the South for E. crystallorophias, though this was largely due to the presence of larger individuals in the south combined with a significant positive relationship between length vs. weight-specific total lipid content for this species. For all prey species except T. macrura, there was a positive relationship between latitude or 0-120 m integrated Chi a vs. lipid content (neutral, polar, or total lipids), and a negative relationship between 0-120 m mean water temperature vs. lipid content. Trends opposite to those above found for T. macrura, suggest an optimal habitat for this species in the northern W AP which is characterized by warmer temperatures and lower Chi a. Patterns in Chi a were more important than upper water column temperature in explaining the observed latitudinal trends. If regional warming persists, the prey quality trends described for E. superba, combined with their regional abundance decline in the northern, coastal W AP could affect the ability of apex predators that rely on E. superba to meet their energetics demands.



© The Author