Until the early 1980s, the composition and distribution of the asteroid (starfish), ophiuroid (brittle star) and holothurian (sea cucumber) bottom fauna of the southeastern Weddell Sea was virtually unknown. This southernmost part of the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean is a typical high-latitude Antarctic region located in the circumpolar permanent pack-ice zone. It became accessible for large-scale scientific surveys only through the availability of modern ice-breaking research vessels, such as the German RV “Polarstern”. Here, we describe a dataset of the faunal composition and abundance of starfish, brittle star and sea cucumber assemblages in this area, based on collections from trawl catches carried out during three “Polarstern” cruises in 1983, 1984 and 1985. The set comprises a total of 4,509 records of abundances of 35 asteroid species (with a total of 2,089 specimens) and 38 ophiuroid species (with a total of 18,484 specimens) from 34 stations, as well as of 66 holothurian species (with a total of 20,918 specimens) from 59 stations including zero-abundances (absences). A synthesizing zoogeographical community analysis confirms the presence of three distinct assemblages of asteroids, ophiuroids, and holothurians with highest species richness on the eastern shelf. Overall, starfishes, brittle stars and sea cucumbers were present at all sites investigated in the study area but composition and abundance of asterozoan (asteroids and ophiuroids together) and holothurian fauna varied considerably. A synthesizing zoogeographical community analysis confirms the presence of three distinct assemblages of asteroids, ophiuroids, and holothurians with highest species richness on the eastern shelf. In the case of asterozoans, water depth and latitude seemed to be the most important drivers of assemblage distribution and composition. One of the holothurian assemblages was part of the rich macrozoobenthic community dominated by a diverse and abundant epifauna, mainly sponges and gorgonians. Another one was mainly composed of vagrant deposit-feeding species inhabiting a predominantly non-colonised substratum. In addition, a mixed holothurian assemblage was identified.
AWI Organizations > Biosciences > Bentho-Pelagic Processes