Bryozoans of the Weddell Sea continental shelf, slope and abyss: did marine life colonize the Antarctic shelf from deep water, outlying islands or in situ refugia following glaciations?
At the height of glaciations such as the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), benthic life on polar continental shelves was bulldozed off nearly all of the Antarctic shelf by grounded ice sheets. The origins of the current shelf benthos have become a subject of considerable debate. There are several possible sources for the current Antarctic shelf fauna, the first of which is the continental slope and deep sea of the Southern Ocean. The high levels of reported eurybathy for many Antarctic species are taken as evidence supporting this. A second possible source for colonists is the southern margins of other continents. Finally, shelves could have been recolonized from refugia on the continental shelves or slopes around Antarctica. The current study investigates whether the patchily rich and abundant biota that now occurs on the Antarctic continental shelf recolonized from refugia in situ or elsewhere. Location
Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Methods
We examined bryozoan samples of the BENDEX, ANDEEP III and SYSTCO expeditions, as well as the literature. Using similarity matrices (Sørensen coefficient), we assessed similarities of benthos sampled from around Antarctica. By assessing numbers of species shared between differing depths and adjacent shelf areas, we evaluated the origins of cheilostome bryozoan communities. Results
Bryozoans decreased from 28, 6.5 and 0.3 colonies per trawl, and 0.16, 0.046 and 0.0026 colonies per cm2 of hard surface from shelf to slope to abyssal depths. We found little and no support for recolonization of the Weddell Sea shelf by bryozoans from the adjacent slope and abyss, in the scenario of LGM faunal wipe-out. The Weddell Sea shelf bryozoan fauna was considerably more similar to those on other Antarctic shelves than to that of the adjacent (Weddell Sea) continental slope. The known bryozoan fauna of the Weddell Sea shelf is not a subset of the Weddell Sea slope or abyssal faunas. Main conclusions
We consider that the composition of the current Weddell Sea bryozoan fauna is most easily explained by in situ survival. Thus we consider that at least some of the Weddell Sea fauna persisted throughout the LGM, although not necessarily at the same locations throughout, to recolonize the large area currently occupied.