The long journey of one paper – what do walruses feed on?

By Anna Gebruk

R/V Kartesh cruise to the Pechora Sea, July 2017, photo by Georgy Shamilishvilli

In the academic world, scientific publications remain one of the most valuable and recognised outcomes of scientific work, and are often used to access success of an individual researcher and research groups. For this reason it is not surprising that in academia we often feel pressure to have work published. But one thing that is difficult to appreciate being a student and preparing your first or second paper to be published is just how much time and effort it might take (or it was for me anyway!).

The journey of this paper started soon after my MSc when I decided that I wanted to have it published. That was back in 2017. And only now, three years later, I can finally share the published paper with the world. It took three years to collect additional data, re-do the analyses, months to hear back from reviewers, many rounds of rejections and revisions, and many days of additional reading, consultations, editing, and proof-reading, but seeing it coming together and eventually published was certainly worth the wait!

The paper assesses foraging resources of Atlantic walruses in the south-eastern Barents Sea and the Pechora Sea. A region that is facing combined impacts from climate change and growing anthropogenic pressures from offshore industries. The paper uses a combination of remote sensing to identify feeding grounds of walruses, benthic grab sampling to characterise composition and biomass of macrobenthic communities, and image analyses of ROV video recordings to assess mobile macrofauna. Grab samples allowed us to describe in detail communities of benthic invertebrates, identify key prey items for walruses (such as bivalve molluscs Astarte borealis, Ciliatocardium ciliatum, and Astarte montagui), and estimate foraging capacity of the area. In addition, ROV video recordings revealed presence of a new-coming invasive snow crab Chionoecetes opilio in the feeding grounds of the walruses, which now poses new research questions – will the crab and walrus compete over benthic biomass or will walruses adapt to feed on the growing population of crabs and use them as an additional feeding resource?

(on the left) Macrobenthic diversity in the research area: species composition and biomass for each station are shown in the pie charts proportional to total biomass per station; (on the right) Movements of walruses in the research area in 2016. Number of ARGOS locations are shown for each cell on a scale from 0 to >100. Areas of greatest density (near Matveev Island and Cape Lyamchin Nos, Vaigach Island) are shown in brown. From Gebruk et al., 2020.

This we will hopefully discuss in the next paper, but if you want to learn more about walruses feeding behaviour and macrobenthos of the Barents Sea, here is the link to the full text open access:

Just to finish with a bit of personal reflection on my experience I would say that for me preparing a paper is not only about having the final outcome published, but what is probably just as valuable is to have an opportunity to get feedback from experts in the field during the peer-review process. And as much as it might seem frustrating to have initial drafts rejected or sent for revisions, it is also incredibly helpful to take on board advice and comments that allow you to gradually improve the quality of your work. With that in mind, I personally always choose to think about potential publications quite early on, and look for calls and opportunities – even if the whole process might take months if not years, it is always a great learning and networking experience!

Full reference: Gebruk A, Mikhaylyukova P, Mardashova M, Semenova V, Henry L-A, Shabalin N, Naryanaswamy B, Mokievsky V (2020) Integrated study of benthic foraging resources for Atlantic walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus) in the Pechora Sea, south‐eastern Barents Sea. Aquatic Conserv: Mar Freshw Ecosyst. 1– 14

Featured image by Anna Gebruk

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