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See also original publication in Nature Communications

Since the middle of the past century, the Western Antarctic Peninsula has warmed rapidly with a significant loss of sea ice but the impacts on plankton biodiversity and carbon cycling remain an open question. Here, using a 5-year dataset of eukaryotic plankton DNA metabarcoding, we assess changes in biodiversity and net community production in this region. Our results show that sea-ice extent is a dominant factor influencing eukaryotic plankton community composition, biodiversity, and net community production. Species richness and evenness decline with an increase in sea surface temperature (SST). In regions with low SST and shallow mixed layers, the community was dominated by a diverse assemblage of diatoms and dinoflagellates. Conversely, less diverse plankton assemblages were observed in waters with higher SST and/or deep mixed layers when sea ice extent was lower. A genetic programming machine-learning model explained up to 80% of the net community production variability at the Western Antarctic Peninsula. Among the biological explanatory variables, the sea-ice environment associated plankton assemblage is the best predictor of net community production. We conclude that eukaryotic plankton diversity and carbon cycling at the Western Antarctic Peninsula are strongly linked to sea-ice conditions.

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