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  • In coastal ecosystems, seaweeds provide habitat and a food source for a variety of species including herbivores of commercial importance. In these systems seaweeds are the ultimate source of energy with any changes in the seaweeds invariably affecting species of higher trophic levels. Seaweeds are rich sources of nutritionally important compounds such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and are particularly rich in long-chain (≥ C20) PUFA (LC-PUFA). In southern Australia, the ‘Great Southern Reef’ has one of the most diverse assemblages of seaweeds in the world, which support highly productive fisheries and have been recognised as a promising resource of omega-3 LC-PUFA. Despite this, there is little information on the biochemical composition of most species and how it varies between sites and seasons. To address this knowledge gap, we undertook a survey to assess seasonal variability in the biochemical composition (fatty acids and nitrogen content) of abundant understory seaweeds across three sites in eastern Tasmania. The availability of nutritional compounds differed between sites and was primarily driven by differences in the biomass and the biochemical composition of the nutritious red seaweeds at each site. This variability may explain regional differences in the productivity of commercial fisheries. At the species level, seasonal changes in fatty acid composition were highly variable between species and sites, indicating that multiple environmental drivers influence fatty acid composition of seaweeds in this system. This finding suggests that commercial harvest of seaweeds from eastern Tasmania will need to consider species and site-specific variability in fatty acid composition.

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    Fatty acid analysis is a powerful tool in food web research for estimating dietary sources in marine predators. However, the utility of fatty acids as dietary indicators from whole lipid samples, rather than from separate lipid classes, has been questioned. Samples are often collected at a single time point, precluding seasonal dietary comparisons. We investigated variations in the fatty acid composition of structural (phospholipids) and storage lipids (triacylglycerols) of Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) using fisheries samples obtained over one year. Seasonal variation was observed in fatty acid biomarkers within triacylglycerol and phospholipid fractions of krill. Fatty acids in krill triacylglycerols (thought to better represent recent diet), reflected omnivorous feeding with highest percentages of flagellate biomarkers (18:4n-3) in summer, and diatom biomarkers (16:1n-7c) in autumn, winter and spring. Carnivory biomarkers (∑ 20:1 + 22:1 and 18:1n-9c/18:1n-7c) in krill were greater in autumn. Phospholipid fatty acids were less variable and higher in 20:5n-3 and 22:6n-3, which are essential components of cell membranes. Sterol composition did not yield detailed dietary information, but percentages of the major krill sterol, cholesterol, were significantly higher in winter and spring compared with summer and autumn. Unexpectedly, 18:4n-3 and copepod markers ∑ 20:1 + 22:1 were not strongly associated with the triacylglycerol fraction during some seasons. Krill may mobilise 18:4n-3 to phospholipids for conversion to long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which would have implications for its role as a dietary biomarker. For the first time, we demonstrate the dynamic seasonal relationship between specific biomarkers and krill lipid classes.

  • The fatty acid content and composition of the Antarctic krill Euphausia superba Dana, 1850 were investigated using samples collected by a commercial fishing vessel. This dataset allowed comparison between seasons, years (2013–2016), and different fishing locations. Quantities of omega 3 fatty acids 20:5n-3 and 22:6n-3 (mg/g dry mass; DM) were highest in autumn and decreased through winter to reach a spring low. Quantities of the flagellate marker 18:4n-3 and diatom marker 16:1n-7c were variable and did not display the same seasonal fluctuations. In summer, krill had high percentages (% total fatty acids) of 20:5n-3 and 22:6n-3, total PUFA, and low 18:1n-9c/18:1n-7c ratios, indicating a more herbivorous diet. Krill became more omnivorous from autumn to spring, indicated by increasing ratios of 18:1n-9c/18:1n-7c and percentages of Σ 20:1 + 22:1 isomers. Bacterial fatty acids (Σ C15 + C17 + C19 isomers) were minor components year-round (0.9–1.8 %). Seasonal levels of herbivory and omnivory differed between years, and levels of specific fatty acid ratios differed between fishing locations. The fatty acid 18:4n-3 was a major driver of variability in krill fatty acid composition, with no obvious seasonal driver. This is the first study to report krill fatty acid data during all four seasons over consecutive years. This large-scale study highlights the value of using fisheries samples to examine seasonal and annual fluctuations in krill diet and condition.

  • Marine heatwaves are extreme events that can have profound and lasting impacts on marine species. Field observations have shown seaweeds to be highly susceptible to marine heatwaves, but the physiological drivers of this susceptibility are poorly understood. Furthermore, the effects of marine heatwaves in conjunction with ocean warming and acidification are yet to be investigated. To address this knowledge gap, we conducted a laboratory culture experiment in which we tested the growth and physiological responses of Phyllospora comosa juveniles from the southern extent of its range (43 - 31° S) to marine heatwaves, ocean warming and acidification. We used a "collapsed factorial design" in which marine heatwaves were superimposed on current (today's pH and temperature) and future (pH and temperature projected by 2100) ocean conditions. Responses were tested both during the heatwaves, and after a seven-day recovery period. Heatwaves reduced net photosynthetic rates in both current and future conditions, while respiration rates were elevated under heatwaves in the current conditions only. Following the recovery period, there was little evidence of heatwaves having lasting negative effects on growth, photosynthesis or respiration. Exposure to heatwaves, future ocean conditions or both caused an increase in the degree of saturation of fatty acids. This adjustment may have counteracted negative effects of elevated temperatures by decreasing membrane fluidity, which increases at higher temperatures. Furthermore, P. comosa appeared to down-regulate the energetically expensive carbon-concentrating mechanism (CCM) in the future conditions with a reduction in δ13 C values detected in these treatments. Any saved energy arising from this down-regulation was not invested in growth and was likely invested in the adjustment of fatty acid composition. This adjustment is a mechanism by which P. comosa and other seaweeds may tolerate the negative effects of ocean warming and marine heatwaves through benefits arising from ocean acidification.