Epibenthic macrofauna associated with the shelf and slope of a young and isolated Southern Ocean island
The remote South Sandwich arc is an archipelago of small volcanic islands and seamounts entirely surrounded by deep water and about 600 km away from the closest island, South Georgia. As some of the youngest islands (< 5 m.y.) in the Southern Ocean they are ideal for studying colonization processes of the seabed by benthic fauna, but are rarely investigated because of remoteness and extreme weather. The current study attempted to quantify the richness and abundance of the epibenthic macrofauna around the Southern Thule group by taking five epibenthic sledge samples along a depth transect including three shelf (one at 300 m and two at 500 m) and two slope stations (1000 and 1500 m). Our aim was to investigate higher taxon richness and community composition in an isolated Antarctic locality, since recent volcanic eruptions between 1964 and 1997. We examined patterns across all epibenthic macrofauna at phylum and class levels, and investigated trends in some model groups of crustaceans to order and family level. We found that abundance was highest in the shallowest sample and decreased with depth. Shelf samples (300 and 500 m) were dominated by molluscs and malacostracans while at the deeper stations (1000 and 1500 m) nematodes were the most abundant taxon. Surprisingly, the shallow shelf was dominated by animals with restricted dispersal abilities, such as direct developing brooders (malacostracans) or those with lecithotrophic larvae (bivalves of the genus Yoldiella, most bryozoan species). Despite Southern Thule's geological youth, recent eruptions, and its remoteness the shallow shelf was rich in higher taxa (phyla/classes) as well as orders and families of our model groups. Future work at higher taxonomic resolution (species level) should greatly increase understanding of how life has reached and established on these young and highly disturbed seabeds.
Authors: Kaiser, Stefanie, Barnes, David K.A., Linse, Katrin, Brandt, Angelika