Diversity, abundance and composition in macrofaunal molluscs from the Ross Sea (Antarctica): results of fine-mesh sampling along a latitudinal gradient
The Latitudinal Gradient Program (2002–2011) aimed at understanding the marine and terrestrial ecosystems existing along the Victoria Land coast (Ross Sea), an area characterized by strong latitudinal clines in environmental factors. During the program’s voyage of the Italian RV “Italica” in 2004, a fine-mesh towed gear, the “Rauschert dredge”, was deployed for the first time at 18 stations in four latitudinal distinct shelf areas between ~71°S and ~74°S. The collected samples contained undescribed species and new records for the Ross Sea from a variety of different marine taxa. Here, we describe the molluscan fauna and investigate evidences for latitudinal effects on molluscan diversity, abundance and assemblage composition. No significant latitudinal trends were detected: while diversity did not vary significantly with latitude, species richness showed an apparent but non-significant decrease with increasing latitude. Beta-diversity was found to be high both within and between latitudinally distinct shelf areas. A large fraction (~20 %) of the collected molluscs corresponded to new species records for the Ross Sea or undescribed species. Rarity in Antarctic molluscan occurrences was confirmed, with singletons (i.e. species represented by only a single individual) accounting for a 22 % and uniques (i.e. species occurring in one sample only) for a 43.5 % of the total presence. Our study of the smaller macrofaunal benthic fraction showed that Antarctic marine research still has far to go to have robust reference baselines to measure possible changes in benthic communities, even in the case of the assumed well-known, well-sampled and well-studied group of Ross Sea shelf molluscs. We advocate the use of fine-mesh trawling gears for routine sampling activities in future Antarctic expeditions to assess the full marine biodiversity.
Authors: Schiaparelli, Stefano, Ghiglione, Claudio, Alvaro, Maria Chiara, Griffiths, Huw J., Linse, Katrin