Some "driving forces" structuring communities of the sublittoral Antarctic macrobenthos

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Community analyses of the macrobenthos living on the the Weddell Sea shelf revealed a distinct horizontal patchiness. Within some systematic groups a specific faunistic classification could clearly be defined, e.g. for asterozoans and holothurians. For fish, however, only a general zoogeographical pattern was discernible, in addition there were some recognisable relationships to different microhabitats. The extreme differences in the distribution of sponges observed seems to reflect their highly variable biological characteristics. Studies using underwater imaging methods for benthic research have provided strong evidence for the ecological significance of two factors. The first, iceberg scouring leads to a variety of simultaneous stages of recolonization, which result in an increase in beta-diversity. As a consequence, it is unlikely that regionally a stage approaching a theoretical climax will ever be attained. Secondly, the structural diversity of living substrata provides the basis for an additional variety of epibiotic species. Only weak or non-detectable correlations have been found between benthic assemblages and physical parameters, such as water depth, sediment type, bathymetric features and the abundance of deposited phytodetritus. This indicates a benthic system which is relatively uncoupled from processes in the water column. The combination of stable environmental conditions and disturbances taking place over long periods of time, which are partly a special feature of Antarctica?s glacial history, shaped the diversity and faunal composition of the macrobenthos. Consequently, neither Houston's "intermediate-disturbance-hypothesis" nor Sander's "stability-time-hypothesis" can be rejected for this part of the antarctic ecosystem.

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Gutt, J. (2000): Some "driving forces" structuring communities of the sublittoral Antarctic macrobenthos , Antarctic Science, 12 (3), pp. 297-313 .

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