Southern Hemisphere coasts are biologically connected by frequent, long-distance rafting events

Ceridwen I. Fraser*, Ludovic Dutoit*, Adele K. Morrison, Luis Miguel Pardo, Stephen D.A. Smith, William S. Pearman, Elahe Parvizi, Jonathan Waters, Erasmo C. Macaya*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Globally, species distributions are shifting in response to environmental change,1 and those that cannot disperse risk extinction.2 Many taxa, including marine species, are showing poleward range shifts as the climate warms.3 In the Southern Hemisphere, however, circumpolar oceanic fronts can present barriers to dispersal.4 Although passive, southward movement of species across this barrier has been considered unlikely,5,6 the recent discovery of buoyant kelp rafts on beaches in Antarctica7,8 demonstrates that such journeys are possible. Rafting is a key process by which diverse taxa—including terrestrial, e.g., Lindo,9 Godinot,10 and Censky et al.,11 and marine, e.g., Carlton et al.12 and Gillespie et al.13 species—can cross oceans.14 Kelp rafts can carry passengers7,15–17 and thus can act as vectors for long-distance dispersal of coastal organisms. The small numbers of kelp rafts previously found in Antarctica7,8 do not, however, shed much light on the frequency of such dispersal events.18 We use a combination of high-resolution phylogenomic analyses (>220,000 SNPs) and oceanographic modeling to show that long-distance biological dispersal events in Southern Ocean are not rare. We document tens of kelp (Durvillaea antarctica) rafting events of thousands of kilometers each, over several decades (1950–2019), with many kelp rafts apparently still reproductively viable. Modeling of dispersal trajectories from genomically inferred source locations shows that distant landmasses are well connected, for example South Georgia and New Zealand, and the Kerguelen Islands and Tasmania. Our findings illustrate the power of genomic approaches to track, and modeling to show frequencies of, long-distance dispersal events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3154-3160.e3
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2022


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