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The Complexity of Life in Polar Regions

by Holly Chavez Blog

Antarctic Peninsula

The Complexity of Life in Polar Regions

When you think of polar regions and the wildlife in which it yields, you more than likely think of polar bears and seals. Although there appears to be less life, there's complex ecosystems within the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The circle of life is never disconnected, however, certain times of the year will cause a shift in the food chain.

The Diverse World of Polar Regions

Within polar regions, you will find a unique and highly complex food web. If you're someone that likes to explore all that polar regions have to offer; think about this complex food web, the next time you spot a whale.

Life in the Arctic

The Arctic ocean can be hostile and bitterly cold. With that being said, it holds some of the most magnificent and beautiful environments on the planet. Although the winter months bring darkness, as temperatures drastically fluctuate, the Arctic ocean is full of life.


When we think of Arctic species, polar bears of course come to mind. However, when you dig deeper, you understand how these top predators are able to survive. There's a complex chain of species below them, fueling their survival.


In order to feed these top predators, there's a complex ecosystem of plankton, birds, a wide variety of fish, and seals. Although large themselves, walruses and whales can also become a rewarding meal. Top predators steal the spotlight, however they could not survive without phytoplankton and algae. After all, they do support all life within this environment.

Life in Antarctica

Just as the Arctic is heavily reliant on phytoplankton, the same is true for the Antarctica. During the summer months, there's extended hours of daylight. This allows phytoplankton to thrive, feeding massive populations of krill.


These crustaceans are essential for life in the Antarctica, as they feed numerous large predators. From penguins, to whales; krill is essential within this ecosystem. As mentioned, the time of year can have dramatic effects on these environments. For half the year, most of the ocean surrounding Antarctica is frozen over. Some species are only part-time residents, moving to warmer waters during these months.


The production and cycle of life, is highly reliant on the changing seasons. Once winter arrives, the ice begins to extend outward. What does this mean for vital food sources such as phytoplankton? Well, the ice is actually an important aspect of this changing season, as it further fuels this complex ecosystem.


Single-celled algae (phytoplankton), become trapped within the ice. Also, this algae begins to grow on the underside of the ice. Due to this effect, you will find a mass amount of krill under these pieces of ice, for the full duration of winter. The ice that forms, allows krill to survive until spring.


Once spring arrives, the ice melts, creating a population boom of phytoplankton in the open water. This allows krill to continually feast, as they multiply at astounding rates. Although extremely small, krill are packed with fat and protein. This allows more familiar species to feed and maintain life, including whales, seals, and penguins.


Antarctica has a lot of unique and interesting species which call it home. Focusing on penguins alone, there are eight species which inhabit this region. With over 1000 fungi species, you begin to look at this environment from a whole new perspective. It is not just an area full of snow and ice, it's a world full of life and wonder.


Between both the Arctic and Antarctica, there are at least 235 marine species. Within the benthic zone of the seafloor, there's up to 155,000 animals in only one square meter. If you have the chance, go discover what these incredible areas have to offer. You will truly appreciate these ecosystems, as these areas are simply breathtaking.

 

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