Rachel Downey

Rachel Downey
Australian National University | ANU · Fenner School of Environment & Society

Physical Geography MSc
Polar and deep-sea sponge taxonomy, biogeography, with applications to climate change and blue carbon research

About

62
Publications
26,246
Reads
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Citations
Introduction
Polar and deep-sea biogeographer researching benthic organisms (sponge specialist) in polar environments using taxonomy, occurrence data, and environmental data to understand current and future data gaps and threats. Specialist taxonomic skills in sponge identification. Team member of ASCCC (Antarctic Seabed Carbon Capture Change) an international research team exploring blue carbon accumulation and sequestration in the Southern Ocean. Co-lead of the deep-sea NW Pacific Challenger 150 programme.
Additional affiliations
May 2018 - August 2020
Australian Government
Position
  • Researcher
Description
  • Researcher that collaboratively developed Australia's first national Environmental Pest List within Invasive Species team. Analysed and compiled databases of invasive species and pathogens that could severely impact the natural Australian environment in the future. Coordinated the first national list of Australian established pests: https://www.agriculture.gov.au/biosecurity/environmental/priority-list
January 2017 - present
Australian National University
Position
  • PhD Student
Description
  • Polar marine biogeographer, sponge taxonomist, and deep-sea biologist. Research focus on the use of 'big data' in sponge science, taxonomic developments, integrative and collaborative taxonomy, polar and deep-sea biogeography, polar benthic blue carbon, and the impacts of climate and society on polar and deep-sea habitats.
July 2016 - December 2016
Australian National University
Position
  • Research Assistant
Description
  • Thematic Editor for Antarctic Sponges: World Register of Marine Species. Collaborator with Museum National D'Histoire Naturelle (France) to analyse Southern Ocean sponge diversity. Team member of ASCCC.
Education
October 2000 - July 2004
University of Bristol
Field of study

Publications

Publications (62)
Chapter
Full-text available
Porifera (pore-bearers), commonly known as sponges, are sessile, colonial animals that are ubiquitous to most marine and freshwater environments. As an ecologically successful phyla, sponges having existed since the Pre-cambrian (~580 Ma), and were major reef builders during the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic (542 to 65 Ma) (e.g. Krautter 1997, Li et al....
Article
Full-text available
Ice loss from the marine-based, potentially unstable West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) contributes to current sea-level rise and may raise sea level by <= 3.3 m or even <= 5 m in the future. Over the past few decades, glaciers draining the WAIS into the Amundsen Sea Embayment (ASE) have shown accelerated ice flow, rapid thinning, and fast retreat of...
Article
Full-text available
Sponges play a key role in Antarctic marine benthic community structure and dynamics and are often a dominant component of many Southern Ocean benthic communities. Understanding the drivers of sponge distribution in Antarctica enables us to understand many of general benthic biodiversity patterns in the region. The sponges of the Antarctic and neig...
Article
Full-text available
Ophiuroids are a conspicuous and often dominant component of the Antarctic continental shelf benthos. Here we report on the ophiuroids collected from the Burdwood Bank, off the Patagonian Shelf, through the shallow water areas of the Scotia Arc, down the west Antarctic Peninsula and as far south as Pine Island Bay in the eastern Amundsen Sea. This...
Article
Full-text available
Aim Networks of connected marine protected areas (MPAn) are recognized as the key area‐based management tool to preserve biodiversity, moderate exploitation of marine resources and increase ecological resilience to climate change. Although population genetic studies could greatly benefit connectivity assessments between MPAs, genetic data are rarel...
Article
Full-text available
Ecosystem-based conservation that includes carbon sinks, alongside a linked carbon credit system, as part of a nature-based solution to combating climate change, could help reduce greenhouse gas levels and therefore the impact of their emissions. Blue carbon habitats and pathways can also facilitate biodiversity retention, aiding sustainable fisher...
Article
We surveyed the shallow-water sponges of Ascension Island using scuba diving. In total, we collected 58 sponge specimens from 17 locations at depths of 0.5–30 m. In addition, we compiled historical records of sponges. We describe nine species new to science: Niphates verityae sp. nov., Petrosia ( Petrosia ) ernesti sp. nov., Monanchora downesae sp....
Article
Full-text available
Diminishing prospects for environmental preservation under climate change are intensifying efforts to boost capture, storage and sequestration (long-term burial) of carbon. However, as Earth's biological carbon sinks also shrink, remediation has become a key part of the narrative for terrestrial ecosystems. In contrast, blue carbon on polar contine...
Data
The WPD, the World Database of all Recent sponges ever described, is part of the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), a global initiative to arrive at a register of all marine organisms. The WPD is complementary to the Systema Porifera (editors Hooper & Van Soest, 2002), the two volume comprehensive classification of all sponge taxa above the...
Article
Full-text available
As part of an expedition aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer RVIB, hundreds of still images were captured of the Ross Sea continental shelf seafloor. Using a crowd-sourced group of experts, we identified the fauna captured in these images, identifying over 1000 organisms to 15 major taxonomic groups (viz., anemones, bivalves, brittle stars, cephalopods,...
Technical Report
Full-text available
The Antarctic has long been seen as an untouchable wilderness where few venture beyond scientists at remote research bases, scattered fishing vessels, and a limited number of well-heeled tourists. Yet shifts in Antarctic processes, driven by human-caused climate change, are impacting wider earth systems, with profound implications for human and eco...
Article
Full-text available
Knowledge of life on the Southern Ocean seafloor has substantially grown since the beginning of this century with increasing ship-based surveys and regular monitoring sites, new technologies and greatly enhanced data sharing. However, seafloor habitats and their communities exhibit high spatial variability and heterogeneity that challenges the way...
Poster
Full-text available
Precautionary conservation and cooperative global governance are needed to protect Antarctic blue carbon: the world's largest increasing natural form of carbon storage with high sequestration potential. As patterns of ice loss around Antarctica become more uniform, there is an underlying increase in carbon capture‐to‐storage‐to‐sequestration on the...
Article
Full-text available
The Southern Ocean supports ecosystem services that are important on a global scale. Climate change and human activities (tourism, fishing, and research) will affect both the demand for, and the provision of, these services into the future. Here we synthesize recent assessments of the current status and expected future climate-driven changes in Sou...
Article
Benthic life in the Southern Ocean (SO) features unique life history traits and species assemblages, but the origin and evolution of many of these taxonomic groups is still unclear. Sea stars (Asteroidea) are a diversified and abundant component of benthic ecosystems in the SO, in which they can play key ecological roles. Former studies suggest tha...
Chapter
This topical Research Handbook examines the legal intersections of climate change, oceans and coasts across multiple scales and sectors, covering different geographies and regions. With expert contributions from Europe, Australasia, the Pacific, North America and Asia, it includes insightful chapters on issues ranging across the impacts of climate...
Preprint
Full-text available
Understanding the vulnerability of marine calcifiers to ocean acidification is a critical issue, especially in the Southern Ocean (SO), which is likely to be the one of the first, and most severely affected regions. Since the industrial revolution, ~30% of anthropogenic CO2 has been absorbed by the oceans. Seawater pH levels have already decreased...
Article
Full-text available
Precautionary conservation and cooperative global governance are needed to protect Antarctic blue carbon: the world's largest increasing natural form of carbon storage with high sequestration potential. As patterns of ice-loss around Antarctica become more uniform, there is an underlying increase in carbon capture-to-storage-to-sequestration on the...
Article
Species inventories are essential to the implementation of conservation policies to mitigate biodiversity loss and maintain ecosystem services and their value to society. This is particularly topical with respect to climate change and direct anthropogenic effects on Antarctic biodiversity, with the identification of the most at-risk taxa and geogra...
Data
The aim of this dataset is to deliver a sound biogeographic baseline study of the NW Pacific area including our available data from the Sea of Japan, Sea of Okhotsk, Kuril-Kamchatka Trench (KKT), Aleutian Trench (AT), SW Bering Sea, and the NW Pacific open abyssal plain. We aim at compiling a novel book on the biogeography of the NW Pacific faunas,...
Chapter
Despite being the largest biome on Earth, deep-sea environments remain poorly mapped and understood, with our current knowledge of sponge distribution biased to regions with a history of deep-sea research (Hogg et al. 2010; Ramirez-Llodra et al. 2010). In the deep sea, below 2,000 m, 60 sponge families, 158 genera and 387 species are known to scien...
Article
Full-text available
As marine-ice around Antarctica retracts, a vast ‘blue carbon’ sink, in the form of living biomass, is emerging. Properly protected and promoted Antarctic blue carbon will form the world’s largest natural negative feedback on climate change. However, fulfilling this promise may be challenging, given the uniqueness of the region and the legal system...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
As oceans warm, reducing the extent of sea-ice and-ice shelves, increased carbon capture by phytoplankton and storage by southern polar benthos (sea bed organisms), is potentially the largest negative feedback on climate change. Teasing apart biological processes within and between geographic regions is vital to our understanding of global carbon c...
Research
Full-text available
The WPD, the World Database of all Recent sponges ever described, is part of the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), a global initiative to arrive at a register of all marine organisms. The WPD is complementary to the Systema Porifera (editors Hooper & Van Soest, 2002), the two volume comprehensive classification of all sponge taxa above the...
Preprint
Full-text available
Research Infrastructures (RIs) are facilities, resources and services used by the scientific community to conduct research and foster innovation. LifeWatch ERIC has developed various virtual research environments, which include many virtual laboratories (vLabs) offering high computational capacity and comprehensive collaborative platforms that supp...
Preprint
Full-text available
Research Infrastructures (RIs) are facilities, resources and services used by the scientific community to conduct research and foster innovation. LifeWatch ERIC has developed various virtual research environments, which include many virtual laboratories (vLabs) offering high computational capacity and comprehensive collaborative platforms that supp...
Article
Full-text available
The South Orkney Islands Southern Shelf (SOISS) Marine Protected Area (MPA) was the first MPA to be designated entirely within the high seas and is managed under the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). To assist with research and monitoring of the MPA, an international expedition ('SO-AntEco') was undertak...
Article
Full-text available
This new dataset presents occurrence data for Porifera collected in the Ross Sea, mainly in the Terra Nova Bay area, and curated at the Italian National Antarctic Museum (MNA, section of Genoa). Specimens were collected in 331 different sampling stations at depths ranging from 17 to 1,100 meters in the framework of 17 different Italian Antarctic ex...
Preprint
Full-text available
Research Infrastructures (RIs) are facilities, resources and services used by the scientific community to conduct research and foster innovation. LifeWatch ERIC has developed various virtual research environments, which include many virtual laboratories (vLabs) offering high computational capacity and comprehensive collaborative platforms that supp...
Article
The deep-sea sponge fauna of the NW (North-West) Pacific has been reexamined with new and previously collected specimens. In total, 555 new sponge specimens were collected in the under-explored deep Kuril Basin (Sea of Okhotsk), Bussol Strait and adjacent NW Pacific Ocean sites during the Russian-German expedition SokhoBio (Sea of Okhotsk Biodivers...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
What little we know of high latitude southern continental shelves suggests that they provide globally important carbon capture and storage. As well as oceanographic CO2 absorption, biological fixation and trophic cascading are important but the latter are little understood or quantified. Most foodweb carbon is pelagic, recycled through microbial lo...
Presentation
Full-text available
Workshop presentation assessing our findings on the diversity and distribution of sponges in the deep-sea of the NW Pacific
Poster
Full-text available
Introducing several research directions that I shall be undertaking within my PhD research - sponge diversity, population connectivity, sponge infauna and exploring the role of geothermal activity on benthic communities
Poster
Full-text available
Introduction Regional warming in the western sector of the Antarctic has been observed since the 1950s. In 1995, this warming led to the collapse of the Larsen A ice shelf, followed by the Larsen B in 2002. Research expeditions in 2007 and 2011 were conducted to track and monitor the ecological changes in this 23,000 km2 region, newly exposed to pr...
Conference Paper
The South Orkney Islands are a small archipelago located in the Southern Ocean, 375 miles north-east of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. In 2009, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) established the South Orkney Islands Southern Shelf Marine Protected Area (SOISS MPA), the first MPA located entirely...
Poster
Full-text available
The abyssal sponge fauna of the NW Pacific region has been re-examined during the recent collaborative German and Russian KuramBio (Kurile-Kamchatka Biodiversity Study) and SokhoBio (Sea of Okhotsk Biodiversity Study) expeditions. Combining our new sponge data with previous expedition data from this region has enhanced our understanding of the abys...
Presentation
Full-text available
Assessing recent biogeographic sponge work in the Southern Ocean.
Article
This study reviews the taxonomy and biogeography of carnivorous sponges (family Cladorhizidae) in the Southern Ocean. Specimens were collected from seamounts in the Drake Passage by dredging and trawling and biogeographical information from other sources was compiled and reviewed. Eight new species of carnivorous sponges are described: Abyssocladia...
Article
Women scientists were banned from Antarctica until Soviet marine geologist Maria Klenova began her research there in 1956. Despite their contributions since, women comprise only 11% of medal winners from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. Our aim is to raise the profile of influential female researchers to inspire the roughl...
Article
Full-text available
High-latitude biodiversity distributions can preserve signals of the timing and geography of past glaciations, and as such ground truth ice-sheet models. Discrete polar archipelagos offer the fewest confounding factors for testing historic ice position records in extant biodiversity. At South Georgia, two competing geological hypotheses suggest tha...
Article
Full-text available
Seasonal measurements of the metabolic physiology of four Antarctic demosponges and their associated assemblages, maintained in a flow through aquarium facility, demonstrated one of the largest differences in seasonal strategies between species and their associated sponge communities. The sponge oxygen consumption measured here exhibited both the l...
Article
Full-text available
Information regarding the echinoids in this dataset is based on the Agassiz Trawl (AGT) and epibenthic sledge (EBS) samples collected during the British Antarctic Survey cruise JR275 on the RRS James Clark Ross in the austral summer 2012. A total of 56 (1 at the South Orkneys and 55 in the Eastern Weddell Sea) Agassiz Trawl and 18 (2 at the South O...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Regional warming in the western sector of the Antarctic has been observed since the 1950s. In 1995, this warming led to the collapse of the Larsen A ice-shelf, followed by the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002. Research expeditions in 2007, 2011, and 2013 were conducted by a multi-disciplinary team to track and monitor the ecological and oceanographic cha...
Data
Full-text available
Chapter
Full-text available
Once referred to as ‘Ectoprocts’, bryozoans or moss animals are exclusively colonial animals formed of tens of thousands of modules called zooids. These colonies can encrust rocks, algae or other animals or they can form their own structures, which can resemble small macro algal fronds, bushes, twigs, coral-like plates or >1 m wide foliaceous reefs...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Significant updates in our knowledge and understanding of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic sponge diversity and distributions are reviewed within the new CAML and SCAR-MarBIN Biogeographic Atlas of the Southern Ocean. This major collaborative scientific initiative has enhanced biological data collection and access, as well as revolutionising our ability...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Sponges play a key role in Antarctic marine benthic community structure, forming heterogeneous habitats supporting rich benthic communities. Compiling, reviewing and analysing new sponge data enables us to better understand regional benthic biodiversity patterns in this region. Two new complementary syntheses of Southern Ocean sponge research have...
Article
Full-text available
Porifera (pore-bearers), commonly known as sponges, are sessile, colonial animals that are ubiquitous to most marine and freshwater environments.As an ecologically successful phyla, sponges having existed since the Precambrian(~580 Ma), and were major reef builders during the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic (542 to 65 Ma) (e.g. Krautter 1997, Li et al. 199...
Technical Report
Full-text available
Coral ecosystems hold more than 25% of all marine species and are of immense economic importance. Climate change is advancing more rapidly than previously forecast, beyond any of the IPCC predictions. state where corals reefs, their inhabitants and many other marine organisms will no longer be viable. Deep emission cuts must be targeted now to avo...

Projects

Projects (7)
Project
Sub-Antarctic Islands, unlike the Antarctic continent, are typically managed by individual countries and don’t fall under a treaty system. As a consequence, science coordination is less well-developed in the region than in the Antarctic Treaty area. Moreover, the significance of the islands themselves are frequently overlooked in global discussions on climate change in polar environments. To address important knowledge gaps and scientific priorities for the sub-Antarctic and pave the way for increased research coordination, the South Atlantic Research Institute (SAERI) organised a Symposium on Sub-Antarctic connections and climate change hosted at Wilton Park in October 2021, ahead of COP26. Symposium discussions led to the creation of a sub-Antarctic blue carbon and natural archives (such as ice-core, corals, peat-core and fjord geology) network of ~30 researchers working in the region, across career stages, nationalities and disciplines - to elucidate our understanding of blue carbon in the past, present and future.
Project
Polar environments, once considered remote, pristine, and relatively untouched regions, are currently undergoing, and are predicted to further undergo, major environmental and anthropogenic changes. Biological responses to such physical changes are already being detected and sponges, key and ubiquitous members of seafloor habitats, are likely to be good sentinels of change. Sponges are animals that can be substantial semi-permanent components of polar seafloor habitats, supporting thousands of individual seabed animals per m2, and because of this recognised (bioconstructor and secondary space) role, they are classed as a VME (Vulnerable Marine Ecosystem) indicator taxa. Sponges play a key role in ocean nutrient cycling through filtration and are likely important in ‘blue carbon’ storage, due to their large sizes, dominance in many communities, and sometimes often fast growth rates in response to environmental changes. High quality temporal, spatial, and taxonomic data coverage of sponges is vital in order to better understand biodiversity dynamism (such as sponge endemism, diversity and distributions), which, alongside increased information on life processes, could result in improved monitoring of large-scale changes in sponge and improved management processes.