Marine Biology

, Volume 144, Issue 4, pp 735–745 | Cite as

Seasonal and annual variability in an epifaunal community in the German Bight

  • H. HinzEmail author
  • I. Kröncke
  • S. Ehrich
Research Article


While the benthic infauna of the North Sea has been studied intensively over the past decades, few studies have focused on the larger mobile epifauna. Studies carried out to date have described the distribution of epifaunal communities over the whole of the North Sea, but variability within the identified communities, which occurs on a much smaller scale, has so far remained unstudied. This is the first study to describe seasonal and annual variability of an epifaunal assemblage in the German Bight area, where environmental conditions are highly variable. The benthic community was sampled with a 2 m beam trawl from 1998 to 2001. The echinoderms Ophiura albida and Asterias rubens and the crustacean Pagurus bernhardus were the dominant species caught throughout the study period. Overall the species composition of the catches was relatively consistent, while abundances of dominant species fluctuated considerably between sampling periods. Differences between sampling periods were not only influenced by the abundances of dominant species, but also by less dominant species such as Ophiura ophiura, Astropecten irregularis, Corystes cassivelaunus, Crangon crangon and Aphorrahis pespelicani. The abundances of these species varied annually and seasonally in the assemblage. Clear differences between summer and winter in the species composition, abundance and biomass were identified. Annual and seasonal changes were most likely linked to migratory movements of epifauna into and out of the area under investigation. Temporal changes in species composition and abundance correlated best with water temperatures, while the spatial distribution of the total biomass over the whole sampling period was correlated with sediment characteristics. Anthropogenic influences such as fishing activity and chronic large-scale eutrophication are thought to have influenced the community on a long-term basis, but have been considered unlikely causes for the short-term variability described by this study.


German Bight Summer Sample Frontal System Winter Sample Beam Trawl 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank H. Neumann, I. Wilhelms and C. Rensing for their practical assistance in sample collection and processing and the crew and officers of the F.R.V. “Walther Herwig III”. We are grateful to M.J. Kaiser for constructive comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department for Marine ResearchSenckenberg InstituteWilhelmshavenGermany
  2. 2.Institut für SeefischereiBundesforschungsanstalt für FischereiHamburgGermany
  3. 3.University of BangorSchool of Ocean SciencesUK

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