Sublittoral epifaunal communities at Signy Island, Antarctica. II. Below the ice-foot zone
Photographic samples were taken every 5 m along two 40 m transects on mostly rock face at Signy Island, Antarctica, during the austral winter of 1991. Dense and taxonomically rich communities of benthos occurred at most of the sublittoral study locations. These communities, however, varied significantly with substratum type, substratum profile and depth. Algae were generally the largest occupiers of space, but the area of substratum colonised by animal taxa increased whenever the profile approached vertical. Shallower than 15 m, disturbance effects, largely from ice, restricted community development to a high degree, but the frequency of disturbance at 25 m appeared to maintain high diversity by preventing domination of the assemblage by a few competitively superior taxa. Bryozoans, and to a lesser extent sponges, were the most abundant animal phyla. Among the bryozoans, species with an encrusting growth form occurred at the shallowest depths followed by encrusting massive/folaceous species and, at 40 m, the erect flexible forms. The ratio of encrusting to erect bryozoan species changed rapidly over the 0 to 50 m depth zone, from exclusively encrusting at 0 to 5 m to approaching 1 at 50 m. The erect bryozoans studied, from the shallow sublittoral to 290 m, could be classified as encrusting massive (foliaceous), erect flexible or erect rigid forms. There was some suggestion, despite the overlap between groups and considerable intra-group variation, that encrusting massive forms were abundant in the shallowest water, followed by erect flexible forms and then erect rigid forms with increasing depth. Some species which occurred as encrusting massive/foliaceous forms in deeper water occurred mostly in encrusting form only in shallow water (<15 m).