Slope and deep-sea abundance across scales: Southern Ocean isopods show how complex the deep sea can be
How animals are distributed in the world's largest surface environment, the deep sea, is poorly understood. The ANDEEP (ANtarctic benthic DEEP-sea biodiversity, colonisation history and recent community patterns) III cruise probed richness and abundance of one group, peracarid crustaceans (isopods, amphipods, cumaceans, tanaidaceans, mysidaceans), as a model of deep-sea fauna across Southern Ocean (SO) sites. Analysis of samples from the ANDEEP cruises reveals SO isopods to be highly abundant, rich and endemic as many other taxa in the region are known to be. Samples taken across three spatial scales include sites tens, hundreds and thousands of kilometers apart, sites stretching from the Southern Cape Basin (South Atlantic) to continental Antarctica and including depths from 1030 to 5000 m. Across these spatial scales we investigated ecological success (abundance) of peracarids at order, family, and species levels. Remarkably no significant relationship was found between abundance and spatial scale at any taxonomic level. That is, the variability in abundance at major regional scale is no different to that across just tens of kilometres. Most taxa were represented in only a few samples, but we suggest most inhabitants of the deep Weddell Sea environment to be very patchy rather than rare. Separate plots of family, genus, and species abundance by sample number revealed this to be true—nearly all genera and species are an order of magnitude more abundant than ‘background’ levels in just one or two samples. Our isopod and amphipod samples reveal the Atlantic sector of the SO, one of the most dynamic and important regions influencing the global deep-sea environment, to be highly complex. Our study suggests that, at least with regard to the study taxa and area, the typical comparisons of regions that are made by ecologists miss the scale at which crucial ecological variability happens. Even without ice scours creating topographical complexity (as on the shelf) the deep Weddell Sea is clearly complex at scales smaller than that measured to date.