Ascidians (Ascidiacea: Tunicata) are sessile suspension feeders that represent dominant epifaunal components of the Southern Ocean shelf benthos and play a significant role in the pelagic–benthic coupling. Here, we report the results of a first study on the relationship between the distribution patterns of eight common and/or abundant (putative) ascidian species, and environmental drivers in the waters off the northern Antarctic Peninsula. During RV Polarstern cruise XXIX/3 (PS81) in January–March 2013, we used seabed imaging surveys along 28 photographic transects of 2 km length each at water depths from 70 to 770 m in three regions (northwestern Weddell Sea, southern Bransfield Strait and southern Drake Passage), differing in their general environmental setting, primarily oceanographic characteristics and sea-ice dynamics, to comparatively analyze the spatial patterns in the abundance of the selected ascidians, reliably to be identified in the photographs, at three nested spatial scales. At a regional (100-km) scale, the ascidian assemblages of the Weddell Sea differed significantly from those of the other two regions, whereas at an intermediate 10-km scale no such differences were detected among habitat types (bank, upper slope, slope, deep/canyon) on the shelf and at the shelf break within each region. These spatial patterns were superimposed by a marked small-scale (10-m) patchiness of ascidian distribution within the 2-km-long transects. Among the environmental variables considered in our study, a combination of water-mass characteristics, sea-ice dynamics (approximated by 5-year averages in sea-ice cover in the region of or surrounding the photographic stations), as well as the seabed ruggedness, was identified as explaining best the distribution patterns of the ascidians.
AWI Organizations > Biosciences > Bentho-Pelagic Processes
AWI Organizations > Climate Sciences > Observational Oceanography
AWI Organizations > Climate Sciences > Junior Research Group: Phytooptics
Helmholtz Research Programs > PACES II (2014-2018) > TOPIC 1: Changes and regional feedbacks in Arctic and Antarctic > WP 1.6: Large scale variability and change in polar benthic biota and ecosystem functions