WA waters a possible hotspot for krill

December 13, 2016

WA waters are home to more than 40 percent of the world's krill species.A PhD research project has revealed that the waters off Western Australia are home to 40 per cent of the world’s krill species.

Dr Alicia Sutton spent four years studying the krill populations and their marine environments between the Kimberley and Cape Leeuwin.

"I was looking at the environmental influences on krill assemblages off Western Australia in the Leeuwin Current system, and working out how they contributed to patterns in krill diversity and distribution for the whole Indian Ocean," Dr Sutton said.

"People are usually surprised to learn that krill occur right off Western Australia. They automatically associate krill with the Antarctic krill.

"The interesting thing about the krill populations off the coast of Western Australia is that we see a mix of species usually found in temperate, sub-tropical or tropical waters.

"This is due the Leeuwin Current transporting tropical waters southwards, allowing the warm waters of the tropics to intermingle with the temperate waters of the southern Indian Ocean."

Dr Alicia Sutton has been researching krill in WA watersn the ASMA Allen awardDr Sutton said she found 34 of the world’s 86 krill species off the coast of WA during her project including five species that had never previously been recorded in the south-east Indian Ocean.

"I conducted analyses relating krill assemblages to environmental variables to establish which ones are most important in driving differences in krill diversity, distribution and abundance," Dr Sutton said.

Results showed the changes in krill assemblages along the coastline were in part related to the change in seawater temperature and salinity, as well as food availability, as the current becomes cooler and more saline towards the south.

"The biodiversity and abundance of krill is important because they are an important food source for commercially important fishes, seabirds, whalesharks, rays and baleen whales," Dr Sutton said.

"Examining this food web more closely could teach us more about charismatic megafauna like pygmy blue whales or commercially important fishes like southern blue fin tuna that migrate along the WA coast."

Dr Sutton was awarded the prestigious Allen Award by the Australian Marine Sciences Association (AMSA) for her research last year.

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