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Inter-annual variability and potential for selectivity in the diets of deep-water Antarctic echinoderms

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  • Qh301 Biology
  • Gc Oceanography


The continental shelf of the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) is a highly productive region but also unusually deep as a result of isostatic depression by the polar ice cap. The close coupling of surface processes with those of the benthos would be expected in such a seasonally variable environment; however, the cold, deep conditions of the WAP shelf may allow for the persistence of organic material in the sediments as a “food bank”. Chlorophyll and carotenoid pigments were determined from the gut contents of seven species of echinoderm and from the surficial sediment on the bathyal continental shelf. Samples were collected as part of the FOODBANCS programme during successive cruises in austral spring (October 2000) and austral autumn (March 2001). Pigments were identified and quantified using reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). A lack of qualitative selectivity was observed among species, compared to that observed for deep-water assemblages at temperate latitudes, supporting the theory of a persistent “food bank”. However, significant quantitative differences were observed among species and between years and sampling location on the shelf. Species differences were marked between those we classified as “true” deposit feeders and those species whose diet also may be supplemented by scavenging and/or grazing.

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