Is there a distinct continental slope fauna in the Antarctic?
The Antarctic continental slope spans the depths from the shelf break (usually between 500 and 1000 m) to not, vert, similar3000 m, is very steep, overlain by ‘warm’ (2–2.5 °C) Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW), and life there is poorly studied. This study investigates whether life on Antarctica’s continental slope is essentially an extension of the shelf or the abyssal fauna, a transition zone between these or clearly distinct in its own right. Using data from several cruises to the Weddell Sea and Scotia Sea, including the ANDEEP (ANtarctic benthic DEEP-sea biodiversity, colonisation history and recent community patterns) I–III, BIOPEARL (BIOdiversity, Phylogeny, Evolution and Adaptive Radiation of Life in Antarctica) 1 and EASIZ (Ecology of the Antarctic Sea Ice Zone) II cruises as well as current databases (SOMBASE, SCAR-MarBIN), four different taxa were selected (i.e. cheilostome bryozoans, isopod and ostracod crustaceans and echinoid echinoderms) and two areas, the Weddell Sea and the Scotia Sea, to examine faunal composition, richness and affinities. The answer has important ramifications to the link between physical oceanography and ecology, and the potential of the slope to act as a refuge and resupply zone to the shelf during glaciations.Benthic samples were collected using Agassiz trawl, epibenthic sledge and Rauschert sled. By bathymetric definition, these data suggest that despite eurybathy in some of the groups examined and apparent similarity of physical conditions in the Antarctic, the shelf, slope and abyssal faunas were clearly separated in the Weddell Sea. However, no such separation of faunas was apparent in the Scotia Sea (except in echinoids). Using a geomorphological definition of the slope, shelf-slope-abyss similarity only changed significantly in the bryozoans. Our results did not support the presence of a homogenous and unique Antarctic slope fauna despite a high number of species being restricted to the slope. However, it remains the case that there may be a unique Antarctic slope fauna, but the paucity of our samples could not demonstrate this in the Scotia Sea. It is very likely that various ecological and evolutionary factors (such as topography, water-mass and sediment characteristics, input of particulate organic carbon (POC) and glaciological history) drive slope distinctness. Isopods showed greatest species richness at slope depths, whereas bryozoans and ostracods were more speciose at shelf depths; however, significance varied across Weddell Sea and Scotia Sea and depending on bathymetric vs. geomorphological definitions. Whilst the slope may harbour some source populations for localised shelf recolonisation, the absence of many shelf species, genera and even families (in a poorly dispersing taxon) from the continental slope indicate that it was not a universal refuge for Antarctic shelf fauna.
Authors: Kaiser, Stefanie, Griffiths, Huw J., Barnes, David K.A., Brandão, Simone N., Brandt, Angelika, O'Brien, Philip E.