Intrepid travellers and CACHE mascots, Clarence and Clemmie, continue their adventures in Antarctica:
“Obviously being clams and hearing that we have distantly related cousins down here we were very keen to meet them and say Hello. So Dr Mel organised a visit to the aquarium: that’s us taking a close look at the Antarctic clams (Laternula elliptica). We had to take care not to fall in, as the water is very cold (around zero degrees): far too cold for us!
Any way we had a nice chat and found out lots about our cousins. They really don’t like being warmed up much above freezing, 3°C is too warm for them (that’s colder than your fridge!). Even in the summer, the water they live in does not get much above 1°C. They are quite worried, as the Antarctic Peninsula, where they live is one of the fastest warming regions on the planet, so they are not sure how they will cope in the future, especially as the older clams, which produce the next generation, do not cope as well as the younger ones.
Whilst we were in the aquarium, we had met with Anthony Crook who is working with Dr Ben Wigham at the University of Newcastle. They are carrying out stable isotope analyses of some of the animals down here to identify what they eat. This is important to know, as if we know what eats what, and also how each species is affected by climate change, then we can get a better picture of how the ecosystem will change in the future. So for example, even if our cousins were perfectly happy living at 2°C, if the algae they eat do not survive at this temperature, then they would starve (Oh dear). Anthony is down here to work on feeding experiments with our cousins and also the common star fish (Odontaster validus).
By feeding the animals only one type of food (and knowing the stable isotopes it contains), Anthony and Dr Ben can work out where the nutrients from the food goes after it has been digested. So does most of the food go in growth, reproduction or energy production? This will tell us a lot about how the animals (especially our cousins) use their food.
Gosh, exciting science! We are really looking forward to hearing about the results, but this will take some time, as most of the work will have to be done in the UK. After all this technical stuff, we relaxed a bit by looking round the rest of the aquarium. There is always a display tank of interesting animals to show visitors (sometimes cruise ships pop by for a quick visit). Here you see us face to face with a big 40 armed starfish (Labidaster radiosus). To be honest we didn’t count the number of arms, as they were waving alarmingly in our direction and Dr Mel says, this guys eats just about anything around, even clams! So I guess we had better behave for the rest of our trip! If you look closely you can also see some limpets, a sea cucumber and more starfish in the tank too. Anthony says Hi to Mum and Dad!