Polar Biology

, Volume 39, Issue 5, pp 863–879 | Cite as

Spatial distribution patterns of ascidians (Ascidiacea: Tunicata) on the continental shelves off the northern Antarctic Peninsula

  • Alexandra Segelken-VoigtEmail author
  • Astrid Bracher
  • Boris Dorschel
  • Julian Gutt
  • Wilma Huneke
  • Heike Link
  • Dieter Piepenburg
Original Paper


Ascidians (Ascidiacea: Tunicata) are sessile suspension feeders that represent dominant epifaunal components of the Southern Ocean shelf benthos and play a significant role in the pelagic–benthic coupling. Here, we report the results of a first study on the relationship between the distribution patterns of eight common and/or abundant (putative) ascidian species, and environmental drivers in the waters off the northern Antarctic Peninsula. During RV Polarstern cruise XXIX/3 (PS81) in January–March 2013, we used seabed imaging surveys along 28 photographic transects of 2 km length each at water depths from 70 to 770 m in three regions (northwestern Weddell Sea, southern Bransfield Strait and southern Drake Passage), differing in their general environmental setting, primarily oceanographic characteristics and sea-ice dynamics, to comparatively analyze the spatial patterns in the abundance of the selected ascidians, reliably to be identified in the photographs, at three nested spatial scales. At a regional (100-km) scale, the ascidian assemblages of the Weddell Sea differed significantly from those of the other two regions, whereas at an intermediate 10-km scale no such differences were detected among habitat types (bank, upper slope, slope, deep/canyon) on the shelf and at the shelf break within each region. These spatial patterns were superimposed by a marked small-scale (10-m) patchiness of ascidian distribution within the 2-km-long transects. Among the environmental variables considered in our study, a combination of water-mass characteristics, sea-ice dynamics (approximated by 5-year averages in sea-ice cover in the region of or surrounding the photographic stations), as well as the seabed ruggedness, was identified as explaining best the distribution patterns of the ascidians.


Environmental drivers Spatial scales Photographic survey Bottom topography Macrobenthos Southern Ocean 



Thanks are due to Marcos Tatián (CONICET Instituto Antartico Argentino) for support in species determination, Michael Klages and the AWI deep-sea group for providing the Ocean Floor Observation System (OFOS) and the SCAR Biology Program AnT-ERA for financial support to join a post-expedition workshop in Dijon in September 2014. We are also grateful to the captain and crew of Polarstern cruise ANT-XXIX/3 (PS81) for their technical and logistical support. H. Link was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) in the framework of the priority programme “Antarctic Research with comparative investigations in Arctic ice areas” by grant LI2313/3-1 and the NSERC Canadian Healthy Oceans Network. This study was supported by the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (Grant AWI_PS81_03).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 105 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (PDF 95 kb)
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Supplementary material 3 (PDF 119 kb)
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Supplementary material 4 (PDF 1822 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra Segelken-Voigt
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Astrid Bracher
    • 2
    • 3
  • Boris Dorschel
    • 2
  • Julian Gutt
    • 2
  • Wilma Huneke
    • 2
  • Heike Link
    • 4
  • Dieter Piepenburg
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Carl von Ossietzky University of OldenburgOldenburgGermany
  2. 2.Alfred Wegener InstituteHelmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine ResearchBremerhavenGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Environmental PhysicsUniversity of BremenBremenGermany
  4. 4.Institute for Ecosystem ResearchUniversity of KielKielGermany

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