Australian Antarctic Division scientists, Dr Steve Nicol and Dr Nick Gales, have been awarded one of only 100 Super Science Fellowships offered by the Australian Research Council, to employ two young post-doctoral researchers to study ecosystem linkages in the Southern Ocean.

Dr Nicol’s and Dr Gales’ $557 000 project — Pelagic ecosystem linkages in a changing Southern Ocean– will be run in collaboration with Professor Mark Hindell of the University of Tasmania and Professor Robert Harcourt of Macquarie University, beginning in 2011. The project will use existing data collected from satellite tracking, research voyages and remote sensing, and new data that will be collected through the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS), to develop spatial models of the habitats of the Southern Ocean and their use by higher predators. New data analysis and modelling techniques will be used to help better describe and understand the ecology of the region.

“Many species are of significant conservation concern, others are recovering from previous harvesting, some are being harvested and all will be affected by a changing climate,” Dr Nicol says.

“Understanding the ecosystem linkages and the way in which the physical environment affects the distribution and abundance of key ecosystem components will allow us to better manage the system and to predict the effects of future climate change.”

The $27.2 million Super Science Fellowship scheme is part of the Australian Government’s $1.1 billion Super Science Initiative to attract and retain outstanding early-career researchers in three key areas: space science and astronomy; marine and climate sciences; and future industries research—biotechnology and nanotechnology.

Twenty Australian institutions were awarded fellowships, with 50 to begin in 2010 and 50 in 2011, and each running for three years.