Links between the structure of an Antarctic shallow-water community and ice-scour frequency
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- Brown, K.M., Fraser, K.P.P., Barnes, D.K.A. et al. Oecologia (2004) 141: 121. doi:10.1007/s00442-004-1648-6
Ice is a major structuring force in marine and freshwater environments at high latitudes. Although recovery from scouring has been quantified in time, the frequency of scouring in the Antarctic has not. We placed grids of markers at 9–17 m depth at two sites, to study ice-scouring over 2 years at Adelaide island (Antarctic Peninsula). We quantified the time scale of scour frequencies, and linked this to community mortality, age and diversity. Markers were hit from zero to at least three times in 2 years. At the least disturbed site (South Cove) 24% of markers were destroyed per year, whereas in North Cove 60% of markers were destroyed. There were significant differences in scouring frequency between our two sites: a given area in North Cove was on average hit twice as often as one in South Cove. Compared with near shore environments elsewhere, faunas of both sites were characteristic of high disturbance regimes, exhibiting low percent cover, diversity, ages and a high proportion of pioneers. Aspects of the encrusting communities studied reflected the differences between site disturbance regimes. North Cove was scoured twice as often, and bryozoan communities there had half the number of species, two-thirds the space occupation and twice the mortality level of those in South Cove. Maximum age in North Cove bryozoans was also half that in South Cove. Although there are natural disturbance events that rival ice-scouring in either frequency or catastrophic power at lower latitudes, none do both nor across such a wide depth range. We suggest that ice scour effects on polar benthos are even more significant than the same magnitude of disturbance at lower latitudes as recovery rates of high latitude communities are very slow. Climate warming seems likely to increase iceloading of near shore polar waters, so that some of the world’s most intensely disturbed faunas may soon suffer even more disturbance.