The influence of the geomorphological and sedimentological settings on the distribution of epibenthic assemblages on a flat topped hill on the over-deepened shelf of the western Weddell Sea (Southern Ocean)
- Alfred-Wegener-Institut Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung, Bremerhaven, Germany
Abstract. Epibenthos communities play an important role in the marine ecosystems of the Weddell Sea. Information on the factors controlling their structure and distribution are, however, still rare. In particular, the interactions between environmental factors and biotic assemblages are not fully understood. Nachtigaller Hill, a newly discovered seabed structure on the over-deepened shelf of the northwest Weddell Sea (Southern Ocean), offers a unique site to study these interactions in a high-latitude Antarctic setting. Based on high-resolution bathymetry and georeferenced biological data, the effect of the terrain and related environmental parameters on the epibenthos was assessed. At Nachtigaller Hill, both geomorphological and biological data showed complex distribution patterns, reflecting local processes such as iceberg scouring and locally amplified bottom currents. This variability was also generally reflected in the variable epibenthos distribution patterns although statistical analyses did not show strong correlations between the selected environmental parameters and species abundances. By analysing the interactions between environmental and biological patterns, this study provides crucial information towards a better understanding of the factors and processes that drive epibenthos communities on the shelves of the Weddell Sea and probably also on other Antarctic shelves.