Distribution and composition of the epibenthic megafauna north of Svalbard (Arctic)


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dieter.piepenburg [ at ] awi.de

Abstract

Benthic communities north of Svalbard are less investigated than in other Arctic shelf regions, as this area was covered by sea-ice during most of the year. Improving our knowledge on this region is timely, however, since climate change is strongly evident there, particularly with regard to the extent of sea-ice decline and its huge eco- logical impact on all marine biota, including the benthos. Moreover, longer ice-free periods will certainly lead to an increase in human activity levels in the area, including bottom trawling. In two adjacent shelf and slope regions off northern Svalbard, we studied the composition of epibenthic megafauna and seafloor habitat structures by analyzing seabed images taken with both still and video cameras. In addition, we also used an Agassiz trawl to catch epibenthic organisms for ground-truthing seabed- image information. A wide variety of mostly sessile organisms 141 epibenthic taxa were identified in the ima- ges. The brittle star Ophiura sarsii and the soft coral Gersemia rubiformis were the most common species. At all stations [300 m in depth, evidence of trawling activities was detected at the seabed. The distribution of the benthic fauna in the study area exhibited a clear depth zonation, mainly reflecting depth-related differences in seabed composition. We conclude that natural factors determining the composition of the seafloor mostly affect the distribu- tion and composition of epibenthic assemblages. Anthro- pogenic impact indicated by the trawl scours found is likely also important at smaller spatial scales.



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ISI/Scopus peer-reviewed
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Published
Eprint ID
37421
DOI 10.1007/s00300-015-1645-8

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Sswat, M. , Gulliksen, B. , Menn, I. , Sweetman, A. K. and Piepenburg, D. (2015): Distribution and composition of the epibenthic megafauna north of Svalbard (Arctic) , Polar Biology . doi: 10.1007/s00300-015-1645-8


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