Spherical or sub-spherical bryozoan colonies were collected from the surface waters of a coastal polynya in the southeastern Weddell Sea near Halley Station in February 1992. These are the first truly pelagic marine bryozoan colones yet recorded. The collection site is the edge of the Brunt ice shelf, which is between 150 and 250 m thick in this area, and the depth of water to the seabed is ∼-400 m. The colonies were hollow, composed of a single layer of autozooids, and appeared complete and undamaged. They were between 5.0 and 23.0 mm in diameter, were brownish in colour in life, and pale yellowish brown after preservation. Light and scanning electron microscope investigations of the colonies indicated that they belonged to the genus Alcyonidium, and they are here compared with A. flabelliforme Kirkpatrick, a known antarctic benthic species. Both a pelagic existence and hollow spherical colony form are new attributes for the phylum Bryozoa. However, because of the plasticity of form of species belonging to the genus Alcyonidium, these is not enough evidence for the introduction of a new species at this time. The colonies found may represent a previously undescribed juvenile stage of a known Alcyonidium species. It is postulated that these colonies may obtain nutrition from the often abundant populations of ice algae present in the lower layers of permanent sea-ice.
Authors: Peck, L. S., Hayward, P. J., Spencer-Jones, M. E.