The Effect of Climate Change on Antarctic Seals
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree LevelPostgraduate Certificate
Degree NamePostgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies
Climate change will have a significant impact on the seals of Antarctica, the Weddell (Leptonychotes weddellii), crabeater (Lobodon carcinophagus), leopard (Hydrurga leptoynx), Ross (Ommatophoca rossii), southern elephant (Mirpunga leonina) andAntarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella). It is likely to affect food supply, habitat availability and reproductive rates, altering population size. Survival will depend on seals' ability to change behaviour and adapt to changing conditions but the severity of the impact will vary with different species. It is important to determine how seals wil react to climate change as they can be used as indicators of sea ice condition and prey availability. Crabeater populations are likely to decline due to the loss of sea ice affecting krill abundance, habitat availability and protection from predators. Leopard seals have a very diverse diet so may not experience the same decline due to loss of food sources, however juvenile mortality may still cause a population decline. Populations of Weddell seals may decrease due to a lower breeding rate. Populations of Ross seal may also decrease due to loss of sea ice and increased forgaing costs from changing distribution of squid. Whilst southern elephant seals and Antarctic fur seals will not be negatively affected by loss of sea ice (indeed, this may lead to population expansion), loss of food sources may still cause a population decline. The declining population numbers is a very serious issue as it reduces the species ability to adapt to the changing conditions. Seals are an important part of the Antarctic biota therefore changes in their lifestyle characteristics will affect the whole marine ecosystem.
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