a1 University of Gent, Department of Morphology, Systematics and Ecology, Marine Biology Section, K.L. Ledeganckstraat 35, B-9000 Gent, Belgium.
a2 British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 OET.
The metazoan meiobenthos was investigated in an Antarctic coastal sediment (Factory Cove, Signy Island, Antarctica). The fine sands contained much higher abundances compared to major sublittoral sediments worldwide. Classified second after Narrangansett Bay (North Atlantic) they reached numbers of 13 × 106 ind m-2. The meiofauna was highly abundant in the surface layers, but densities decreased sharply below 2 cm. Vertical profiles mirrored steep gradients of microbiota, chloropigments and organic matter and were coincident with chemical stratification. Spatial patchiness manifested especially in the surface layer. Nematodes dominated (up to 90%), and Aponema, Chromctdorita, Diplolaimella, Daptonema, Microlaimus and Neochromadora constituted almost the entire community. Overall, the nematode fauna showed a strong similarity with fine sand communities elsewhere. The dominant trophic strategies were epistrarum and non-selective deposit feeding, but the applied classification for feeding guild structure of the nematodes of Factory Cove is discussed. High standing stock, low diversity and shallow depth distribution may have occurred because of the high nutritive (chlorophyll exceeded lOOOmgm-2 and constituted almost 50% of the organic pool) and reductive character of the benthic environment. These observations must have originated from the substantial input of fresh organic matter from phytoplankton and microphytobenthic production, typical for an Antarctic coastal ecosystem during the austral summer.