Estimating Tipping points in habitability of ANtarctic benthic ecosystems under GlObal future climate change scenarios


Ann Vanreusel, Ulricke Braeckman and Francesca Pasotti: Universiteit Gent, Marine Biology

Bruno Danis: Marine Biology Lab, Université Libre de Bruxelles

Isa Schön and Anton Van de Putte: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, ANTABIF (biodiversity.aq)

Gilles Lepoint and Bruno Delille: Université de Liège, Laboratoire d’Océanologie – Centre MARE

Research Project :

TANGO (Estimating Tipping points in habitability of ANtarctic benthic ecosystems under GlObal future climate change scenarios) is funded by the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO) under the BRAIN-BE framework, for 4 years (2021-2025).

With this project, the TANGO consortium will contribute to several specific research priorities or targets as identified by SDG 13 (Climate action), SDG 14 (Life below water), SCAR and IPCC and as endorsed by Belgium by its commitment to the Antarctic Treaty and the Climate convention in Paris. The effects of climatic fluctuations on natural polar ecosystems remain poorly understood and the unravelling of these processes represents one of the research priorities identified by these global agreements. By developing a mechanistic framework to predict tipping points or ecological thresholds for the habitability of coastal Antarctic ecosystems, we can identify the potential of these extreme environments to support and preserve life and analyse the consequences of degradation of habitability conditions and the associated biodiversity loss. As climatic changes are prominent and intensifying in polar regions, dramatic shifts in structure and function of ecosystems may take place and will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. The ongoing debate at the level of the IPCC and SCAR highlights the lack of knowledge on different thresholds and different ecosystem states, their habitability and stability, and whether they are true alternate states of the same system. It is also unclear to what extent transition points are thresholds, while this knowledge is crucial in ecosystem management to sustain habitability in the long term in a context of global change and for the protection of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of the natural environment. By investigating ecological thresholds at different levels of organization, including species, species interactions, populations, processes and functions, and whole ecosystems with a focus on the benthos (organisms living in strict contact with the seafloor), we will be able to identify not only the requirements of habitability, but also the factors that undermine habitability such as the imbalance of the carbon cycle.