Antarctic Science

Research Article

A benthic richness hotspot in the Southern Ocean: slope and shelf cryptic benthos of Shag Rocks

David K.A. Barnesa1 c1

a1 British Antarctic Survey, NERC, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 OET, UK

Abstract

Shelf and slope cryptofauna were sampled at the most northerly shelf environments within the Southern Ocean, Shag Rocks. The area is remarkably rich, with seven phyla, 10 classes, 40 families and 81 species on 0.36 m2 of shelf boulders. A large proportion of genera and species found had not been seen there before, some were new to science and species accumulation curves did not approach an asymptote. Current estimates of benthic diversity are clearly still too low if even well studied locations and depths reveal so much novelty with such little sample effort. Proportions of new species were higher in slope samples showing how little we know of this important depth. Significantly, life was just as rich and, surprisingly, abundant on boulders from continental slope depths. Clearly there are places where the continental slope around Antarctica harbours a wealth of species with potential to resupply the shelf if life was ‘bulldozed’ off it by past ice shelf expansions during glacial maxima. Some species on boulders from 1500 m also occur as shallow as the Antarctic intertidal zone. That this rich fauna was ‘Antarctic’ in character shows the extremes, e.g. sea temperature (> 4°C in summer), that they can adapt to given long enough time periods.

(Received July 19 2007)

(Accepted October 23 2007)

Correspondence:

c1 dkab@bas.ac.uk

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