, Volume 143, Issue 4, pp 783-791
Date: 13 Jun 2003

To what extent does upright sessile epifauna affect benthic biodiversity and community composition?

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Abstract

Small-scale habitat complexity, including that caused by biological structures, is an important factor in structuring benthic communities and also sometimes in increasing biodiversity. The aim of this study was to determine if hydroid colonies have an effect on the composition of benthic communities in the Irish Sea, and if so, which components of the fauna are affected. Forty-six seabed core samples were taken by divers from two sites off Port Erin, Isle of Man, Irish Sea. Half of these were centred on hydroid colonies, half were not. All taxa retained by a 63-μm sieve from the cores were identified and counted. Community composition and diversity were compared between hydroid and non-hydroid cores using multivariate and univariate methods. Benthic communities were significantly different between the two sample groups. This was almost entirely due to the presence of sessile and mobile epifaunal taxa in the hydroid cores. The tube-building amphipod, Ericthonius punctatus, was particularly abundant attached to the hydroid stems. Infauna was not significantly different between the two groups. Upright sessile epifauna may play a particularly important role in the Irish Sea as a settlement substrate for juvenile scallops (Pecten maximus and Aequipecten opercularis), which are an important fishery resource in this area. The 11-year closure of an area to dredging has not only enhanced scallop stocks but has had the added benefit of enhancing habitat complexity and biodiversity.

Communicated by J.P. Thorpe, Port Erin