Dr Vonda Cummings, benthic ecologist at NIWA, explains the special characteristics of seafloor communities living in Antarctica's coastal waters and the importance of understanding what makes them tick.
Adaptions to constant extreme cold – with water temperatures hovering at -1.9 degrees Celsius near Scott Base – include slow metabolisms, extreme longevity, and 'gigantism'. As a result, this bizarre community includes Antarctic scallops that live up to 80 years, and sponges the size of small cars. The tiny plants that fuel these animals must cope with ice cover and low light levels for 10 months of the year. Scientists need to learn more about how these seafloor communities function so they can understand potential impacts, including those of climate change and ocean acidification.