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Megafaunal Communities in Rapidly Warming Fjords along the West Antarctic Peninsula: Hotspots of Abundance and Beta Diversity

Authors
Journal
PLoS ONE
1932-6203
Publisher
Public Library of Science
Publication Date
Volume
8
Issue
12
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077917
Keywords
  • Research Article
Disciplines
  • Biology
  • Ecology

Abstract

Glacio-marine fjords occur widely at high latitudes and have been extensively studied in the Arctic, where heavy meltwater inputs and sedimentation yield low benthic faunal abundance and biodiversity in inner-middle fjords. Fjord benthic ecosystems remain poorly studied in the subpolar Antarctic, including those in extensive fjords along the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). Here we test ecosystem predictions from Arctic fjords on three subpolar, glacio-marine fjords along the WAP. With seafloor photographic surveys we evaluate benthic megafaunal abundance, community structure, and species diversity, as well as the abundance of demersal nekton and macroalgal detritus, in soft-sediment basins of Andvord, Flandres and Barilari Bays at depths of 436–725 m. We then contrast these fjord sites with three open shelf stations of similar depths. Contrary to Arctic predictions, WAP fjord basins exhibited 3 to 38-fold greater benthic megafaunal abundance than the open shelf, and local species diversity and trophic complexity remained high from outer to inner fjord basins. Furthermore, WAP fjords contained distinct species composition, substantially contributing to beta and gamma diversity at 400–700 m depths along the WAP. The abundance of demersal nekton and macroalgal detritus was also substantially higher in WAP fjords compared to the open shelf. We conclude that WAP fjords are important hotspots of benthic abundance and biodiversity as a consequence of weak meltwater influences, low sedimentation disturbance, and high, varied food inputs. We postulate that WAP fjords differ markedly from their Arctic counterparts because they are in earlier stages of climate warming, and that rapid warming along the WAP will increase meltwater and sediment inputs, deleteriously impacting these biodiversity hotspots. Because WAP fjords also provide important habitat and foraging areas for Antarctic krill and baleen whales, there is an urgent need to develop better understanding of the structure, dynamics and climate-sensitivity of WAP subpolar fjord ecosystems.

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