Intermediate ice scour disturbance is key to maintaining a peak in biodiversity within the shallows of the Western Antarctic Peninsula
Climate-related disturbance regimes are changing rapidly with profound consequences for ecosystems. Disturbance is often perceived as detrimental to biodiversity; however, the literature is divided on how they influence each other. Disturbance events in nature are diverse, occurring across numerous interacting trophic levels and multiple spatial and temporal scales, leading to divergence between empirical and theoretical studies. The shallow Antarctic seafloor has one of the largest disturbance gradients on earth, due to iceberg scouring. Scour rates are changing rapidly along the Western Antarctic Peninsula because of climate change and with further changes predicted, the Antarctic benthos will likely undergo dramatic shifts in diversity. We investigated benthic macro and megafaunal richness across 10–100 m depth range, much of which, 40–100 m, has rarely been sampled. Macro and megafauna species richness peaked at 50–60 m depth, a depth dominated by a diverse range of sessile suspension feeders, with an intermediate level of iceberg disturbance. Our results show that a broad range of disturbance values are required to detect the predicted peak in biodiversity that is consistent with the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis, suggesting ice scour is key to maintaining high biodiversity in Antarctica’s shallows.
Authors: Robinson, B.J.O., Barnes, D.K.A. ORCID record for D.K.A. Barnes, Grange, L.J., Morley, S.A. ORCID record for S.A. Morley