Meiofauna distribution and mesoscale variability in two sites of the Ross Sea (Antarctica) with contrasting food supply
Meiofauna abundance, biomass and community structure were investigated in two comparable deep sites of the Ross Sea (Antarctica) characterized by different trophic and sediment characteristics. Site B (567 m depth, dominated by muddy sediments) and site C (439 m depth, characterized by the presence of calcareous debris and coarse sand) were located at increasing distance from the polynyas and were subject to different inputs of organic material to the seabed. Total meiofauna abundance ranged from 192.0 to 1191.2 ind. 10 cm−2, and total biomass varied between 9.5 and 50.3 μgC 10 cm−2. Meiofauna densities from the Ross Sea are, on average, 2–7 times lower than those reported from other similar deep polar regions and displayed significant differences between the sites. Nematodes dominated the samples at both sites, but their relative significance changed between the sites (80% at site B and 56% at site C), followed by copepods (1.6% and 35% at sites B and C, respectively). Meiofauna composition at site B appeared similar to that reported for deep-sea antarctic or temperate sediments, whereas the composition at site C was similar to that of coastal areas. On a macroscale, the different inputs of utilizable organic material at the two sites were reflected in meiofaunal distribution patterns, indicating that meiofaunal communities from the Ross Sea are dependent on particulate organic matter fluxes from the photic layer and are coupled to pelagic phenomena. Very low microscale variations (i.e. between replicates) in meiofauna density contrasted with large mesoscale variability, which was related to the concentration of the main food indicators (phytopigments, proteins, carbohydrates and lipids).
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