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

M. Sswat, B. Gulliksen, I. Menn, Andrew K. Sweetman, D. Piepenburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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 ecological 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 images. 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 distribution and composition of epibenthic assemblages. Anthropogenic impact indicated by the trawl scours found is likely also important at smaller spatial scales.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)861-877
Number of pages17
JournalPolar Biology
Volume38
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015

Keywords

  • Arctic
  • Svalbard
  • Epibenthic megafauna
  • Depth
  • Zonation
  • Community structure
  • Trawling
  • LONG-TERM CHANGES
  • BARENTS SEA
  • MACROBENTHIC COMMUNITIES
  • BENTHIC INFAUNA
  • CHUKCHI SEAS
  • WADDEN SEA
  • PATTERNS
  • ASSEMBLAGES
  • VARIABILITY
  • SPITSBERGEN

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