a1 British Antarctic Survey, NERC, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 OET, UK
An extremely dynamic chain of archipelagos links South America and the Antarctic Peninsula. It includes islands, which are large and small, old and young, near continental margins and isolated, and well sampled and poorly known. The current study sampled the macrobenthos of all the major archipelagos of this arc at shelf and slope depths using an Agassiz trawl. At least four samples (200 m, 500 m, 1000 m and 1500 m) were taken down-slope at Falkland Trough, Shag Rocks, South Georgia, South Thule, Powell Basin, Elephant Island, and Livingston Island sites and one sample was collected in the caldera of Deception Island. Despite the biogeographical and biodiversity importance of this region, this is the first time (by definition) entire standardized trawl samples have been analysed from all its archipelagos and at any consistent taxonomic level. We found 15 phyla and 29 classes of macro- and megafauna in total across the samples, many of which occurred at all sites. Even at remote and geologically young sites richness was high. Richness increased with abundance and wet mass and was highest in the shallow shelf samples and lowest at 1500 m. Abundance and wet mass varied more than two orders of magnitude, even within classes or study areas. There were strong similarities between the ascidian dominated shallow faunas of the two active volcanic sites, Southern Thule and Deception Island despite huge differences in isolation. There were also strong faunal similarities between Falkland Trough and Shag Rocks despite being on opposing sides of the Polar Front. In contrast two near neighbours with similarly soft substrata, Elephant and Livingston islands were amongst the most dissimilar.
(Received July 19 2007)
(Accepted January 29 2008)
This publication is dedicated to the memory of Dr Helen R. Wilcock for whom to visit Antarctica was a lifelong dream.