Interannual variation in the epibenthic megafauna at the shallowest station of the HAUSGARTEN observatory (79° N, 6° E)
Abstract. Epibenthic megafauna play an important role in the deep-sea environment and contribute significantly to benthic biomass, but their population dynamics are still understudied. We used a towed deep-sea camera system to assess the population densities of epibenthic megafauna in 2002, 2007, and 2012 at the shallowest station (HG I, ∼1300 m) of the deep-sea observatory HAUSGARTEN, in the eastern Fram Strait. Our results indicate that the overall density of megafauna was significantly lower in 2007 than in 2002, but was significantly higher in 2012, resulting in overall greater megafaunal density in 2012. Different species showed different patterns in population density, but the relative proportions of predator/scavengers and suspension-feeding individuals were both higher in 2012. Variations in megafaunal densities and proportions are likely due to variation in food input to the sea floor, which decreased slightly in the years preceding 2007 and was greatly elevated in the years preceding 2012. Both average evenness and diversity increased over the time period studied, which indicates that HG I may be food-limited and subject to bottom-up control. The community of HG I may be unique in its response to elevated food input, which resulted in higher evenness and diversity in 2012.