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Southern ocean food web modelling: Progress, prognoses, and future priorities for research and policy makers

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 04:44 authored by Stacey McCormackStacey McCormack, Jessica Melbourne-ThomasJessica Melbourne-Thomas, Rowan TrebilcoRowan Trebilco, Griffith, G, Hill, SL, Hoover, C, Johnston, NM, Marina, TI, Murphy, EJ, Pakhomov, EA, Pinkerton, M, Plaganyi, E, Saravia, LA, Roshni SubramaniamRoshni Subramaniam, Van de Putte, AP, Andrew ConstableAndrew Constable
Globally important services are supported by Southern Ocean ecosystems, underpinned by the structure, function, and dynamics of complex interconnected and regionally distinctive food webs. These food webs vary in response to a combination of physical and chemical processes that alter productivity, species composition and the relative abundance and dynamics of organisms. Combined with regional and seasonal variability, climate-induced changes and human activities have and are expected to continue to drive important structural and functional changes to Southern Ocean food webs. However, our current understanding of food web structure, function, status, and trends is patchy in space and time, and methods for systematically assessing and comparing community-level responses to change within and across regional and temporal scales are not well developed. Insights gained from food web modelling studies—ranging from theoretical analyses of ecosystem resilience and adaptation, to qualitative and quantitative descriptions of the system—can assist in resolving patterns of energy flow and the ecological mechanisms that drive food web structure, function, and responses to drivers (such as fishing and climate change). This understanding is required to inform robust management strategies to conserve Southern Ocean food webs and the ecosystem services they underpin in the face of change. This paper synthesises the current state of knowledge regarding Southern Ocean pelagic food webs, highlighting the distinct regional food web characteristics, including key drivers of energy flow, dominant species, and network properties that may indicate system resilience. In particular, the insights, gaps, and potential integration of existing knowledge and Southern Ocean food web models are evaluated as a basis for developing integrated food web assessments that can be used to test the efficacy of alternative management and policy options. We discuss key limitations of existing models for assessing change resulting from various drivers, summarise priorities for model development and identify that significant progress could be made to support policy by advancing the development of food web models coupled to projected biogeochemical models, such as in Earth System models.


Publication title

Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution






Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Frontiers Research Foundation

Place of publication


Rights statement

Copyright © 2021 McCormack, Melbourne-Thomas, Trebilco, Griffith, Hill, Hoover, Johnston, Marina, Murphy, Pakhomov, Pinkerton, Plagányi, Saravia, Subramaniam, Van de Putte and Constable. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License ( The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Assessment and management of Antarctic and Southern Ocean ecosystems