The resilience of polar key organisms to climate change

Research in the section Polar Biological Oceanography, Alfred Wegener Institute

The Polar Regions have a substantial influence on global climate and, at the same time, belong to the fastest warming regions worldwide. It is currently not clear yet, as to what extent anthropogenic environmental changes will impact on structure and functioning of the polar marine ecosystem.

One approach to closing this knowledge gap is to investigate the adaptability of polar pelagic key species that significantly influence the structure and functionality of the food webs in polar regions. These species include, for example, the Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba and the gelatinous species Salpa thompsoni in the Southern Ocean and various copepod species in the “Calanus complex” in the Arctic Ocean.

The group provides critical scientific information for krill fishery management and the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean, both managed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resource (CCAMLR), by presenting the scientific results to the Commission.

Research questions

  • What is the performance and adaptive capacity of polar pelagic key species in relation to (anthropogenic) environmental change?
  • Which impact has the krill fishery on the krill population in the Southern Ocean?
  • Which impact have polar pelagic key species on biogeochemical cycles in polar regions?


Our approach is to identify bottlenecks in the life cycle of key species, in relation to environmental factors, which are affected and unaffected by increasing anthropogenic carbon dioxide emission (temperature, sea ice, photoperiod, respectively). We study these species in all their ontogenetic complexity by using a comprehensive setup of sampling devices, experimental process studies, and analytical tools on different spatial – and biodiversity scales.

The generated data will be embedded in individual-based models and ontogenetic-population dynamic models to a) enable predictions on population shifts of polar pelagic key species, b) identify mechanistic relation shifts between annual fluctuations of the abundance of these species in relation to changing environmental factors and c) identify ecosystem responses due to population shifts in terms of biogeochemical cycles.

Responsible person

Prof. Dr. Bettina Meyer

  • Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI)
  • Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment (ICBM) at the University of Oldenburg
  • Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine biodiversity (HIFMB) at the University of Oldenburg