Seasonal variation in the diversity and abundance of pelagic larvae of Antarctic marine invertebrates
Most marine benthic macroinvertebrate species reproduce via a larval phase but attempts to explain the occurrence of different larval strategies (feeding or non-feeding, pelagic or benthic) in different habitats have been largely inconclusive. There have been very few year-round surveys of meroplankton at any latitude and in consequence fundamental data on the diversity, abundance, and timings of larval life history phases are lacking. There has been considerable debate regarding the viability of pelagic larvae in cold waters with highly seasonal primary production but there has been only one year-round study of meroplankton in the Southern Ocean, and that was outside of the Antarctic Circle. We present data from the first year-round survey of meroplankton assemblages at a location within the Antarctic Circle. We surveyed abundances of meroplanktonic larvae over 1.5 year at Rothera Point, West Antarctic Peninsula (67A degrees 34'S, 68A degrees 07'W). Larvae were collected in monthly diver-towed net samples close to the seabed at 20 and 6 m total water depths at each of three locations and were identified and counted live immediately after sampling. A total of 99 operationally defined taxonomic types representing 11 phyla were recorded but this is likely to be an underestimate of true diversity because of inherent difficulties of identification. Larvae were present in all months of the year and although planktotrophic larvae were more abundant in summer, both feeding and non-feeding types were present in all months. Comparisons of seasonal larval abundances with data from a settlement study at the same sites and from the literature show that larvae of mobile adults settle in summer regardless of developmental type, whereas sessile taxa settle in all seasons. We suggest that this is a consequence of differences in the food requirements of mobile and sessile fauna and that the availability of food for post-larval juveniles is more critical for survival than factors affecting the larval stage itself.
Authors: Bowden, David A., Clarke, Andrew, Peck, Lloyd S.