, Volume 61, Issue 1, pp 32-41

Species size distributions in marine benthic communities

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Summary

Species body size distributions from eight temperate benthic communities show a highly conservative pattern with two separate lognormal distributions, corresponding to the traditional categories of meiofauna and macrofauna. The meiofaunal mode occurs at a dry body weight of 0.64 μg and the macrofaunal mode at 3.2 mg, with a trough between them at 45 μg. It is suggested that there is a particular body size at which meiofaunal life-history and feeding traits can be optimised, and another for macrofaunal traits. As size departs in either direction (larger or smaller) from these optima, fewer species of the same size are able to co-exist. The split occurs at 45 μg because many life history and feeding characteristics switch more or less abruptly at about this body size, compromise traits being either non-viable or disadvantageous. Meiofauna and macrofauna therefore comprise two separate evolutionary units each with an internally coherent set of biological characteristics.

The expression of this conservative pattern is modified by water depth: the proportion of macrofauna species increases from intertidal situations to deeper water, and it is suggested that mechanisms of resource partitioning and diversity maintainence in the meiofauna and macrofauna are affected differentially by sediment disturbance. Salinity does not affect this proportionality, and so does not differentially affect mechanisms for maintaining species diversity in any particular size category of animals. Meiofauna species size distributions may be modified in sandy sediments because of physical impositions on interstitial or burrowing lifestyles.

Brief discussion of some implications of these observations includes speculations on the larval ecology of macrofauna, on gigantism in Antarctic invertebrates, and on the benthic Sheldon spectrum.