Elizabeth (Susie) Balser and Will Jaeckle, members of Illinois Wesleyan's biology faculty, participated in a research expedition to Antarctica aboard the R/V Laurence M. Gould during November and December of 2004.
Balser and Jaeckle were part of one of two teams on the ship. They were members of Project B-281, Invertebrate Dispersal and Genetics. (Read the research abstract.)
Each day, they filed a journal and photographs. To read their daily reports, go here.
The southernmost continent of Antarctica is the fifth largest continent and the coldest and driest place on earth. Antarctica separated from the southern tip of the South American continent approximately 30 million years ago and has been isolated since. During this time, many of the marine animals living around Antarctica have evolved and are now different than any other animals in the world. These endemic animals are unique to Antarctica and include worms, molluscs, echinoderms, crustaceans and many others. However, some of the animals are able to live in both Antarctic and South American waters.
Working with a team from Auburn University and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Illinois Wesleyan researchers looked at how the larval forms of some marine animals move between Antarctica and South America. By using plankton nets, they collected larvae that may actually be moving across the Drake Passage one of the roughest bodies of water in the world. Because larvae are so small and the Drake Passage is so big, this was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
For a map of the voyage, go here for the University of Connecticut site.
However, larvae of various marine invertebrates have been previously found in the Drake Passage during cruises in 2000 and 2001. Two fundamental problems arise in studying these larvae. One, larvae often do not look like the adults, so identifying the genus species (or taxon) of the larvae is difficult. Second, collecting larvae from the plankton is like taking a snap shot their history and point of origin are unknown. Once the researchers return home, they will use genetic (DNA) tools on larvae and adults collected in Antarctica and South America to determine if animals in both locations are closely related. "Paternity" tests done by comparing larval and adult DNA will also allow scientist to assign larvae to a taxonomic group.
The other project was Project B-307, Salp Biology. This research team examined salps, which are planktonic grazers that have a life history, feeding biology, and population dynamics strikingly different from other zooplankton such as krill and copepods. (Read the research abstract.)
Daily reports from the expedition were posted to this site and to companion sites at Auburn University and the University of Connecticut.