Seasonality of feeding activity in Antarctic suspension feeders
The feeding activity of four benthic suspension-feeding groups (bryozoans, hydroids, polychaetes and holothurians) was monitored in situ every month for a 2-year period at Signy Island in the maritime Antarctic. The bryozoans were monitored at species level, whereas the other taxa could be differentiated only to genus. A marked seasonal variation in feeding activity was observed in most taxa. Although environmental parameters such as sea water temperature, fastice duration and water column chlorophyll concentrations suggested that winter in the maritime Antarctic lasts for about 6 months, many animals ceased feeding only for a short period of 2 or 3 months around the middle of the austral winter (June/July). These suspension feeders must therefore be efficient at utilising the low concentration of the microplankton existing in the water column for much of the year. Comparison with environmental variables suggested several possible cues for changes in feeding activity, but these cues may differ between taxa. Photoperiod and changes in disturbance by water movement (both mediated by ice), and food concentration are likely to be important environmental cues for polar suspension feeders.