Limnology and biology of saline lakes in the Rauer Islands, eastern Antarctica
The Rauer Islands contain more than fifty shallow lakes and small ephemeral ponds. Despite their proximity to the Vestfold Hills - one of the most diverse and intensively studied lake districts of eastern Antarctica - the lakes of the Rauer Islands have remained undescribed. In this study the physical and chemical limnology and biology of ten lakes is presented and their species-environment relationships explored using multivariate statistics. Analyses of chemical and biological data indicate that the Rauer Islands form a distinct limnological province amongst the lakes of the Prydz Bay oases. Salinities range from hypo- to hyper-saline with an ionic order close to that of seawater. Deviance from this order indicates either an earlier origin for some of the most hypersaline lakes when compared with the Vestfold Hills, more rapid evaporation vs precipitation or differences in the sources of ions resulting from isostatic history. With fluctuating salinities, winter water temperatures below –10°C, seasonal ice and slush formation, desiccation and high levels of solar radiation, the lacustrine environment presents considerable abiotic challenges for biological survival. Results indicate that there is little or no planktonic flora in the lakes and no zooplankton were encountered. Despite this, analyses of pigments, diatoms and other micro-algae revealed an active and diverse benthic biota characterized by filamentous cyanobacteria with interstitial algae. Thirty-eight diatom taxa, and a selection of Chlorophyta and Xanthophyta were detected amongst the cyanobacteria. Clusters in the diatom data correspond to salinity. Further analyses of the relationships between the biota and their environment revealed some of the strategies employed for survival. In particular, the synthesis of scytonemin was detected. This pigment is known to function as an extracellular UV sunscreen which protects cyanobacterial cells against damage by ultraviolet radiation. These results support the hypothesis that environmental extremes and biogeographical isolation control the biology of these lakes.(Received December 21 2000)
(Accepted May 6 2001)
Key Words: Antarctic; biology; chemistry; diatoms; lakes; UV radiation.