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Benthic infaunal communities of Baltimore and Norfolk Canyons

January 1, 2020

The imperative for finding, cataloging, and understanding continental margin diversity derives
from the many key functions, goods and services provided by margin ecosystems and by an
increasingly deleterious human footprint on our continental slopes (Levin and Dayton 2009). Progress in seafloor mapping technology and direct observation has revealed unexpected heterogeneity, with a mosaic of habitats and ecosystems linked to geomorphological, geochemical, and hydrographic features that are capable of influencing biotic diversity (Levin and Sibuet 2012).

Submarine canyons are dramatic and widespread topographic features crossing continental and
island margins in oceans, connecting shelf-margins to deep ocean basins (Harris and Whiteway 2011). Their importance as biodiversity hotspots has continued to emerge over the last two decades as research efforts have increased. Understanding the physical parameters within a canyon system is a primary factor for understanding habitat variability and ecological patterns within the confines of canyon systems (Levin et al. 2001). Margin sediments exhibit ubiquitous depth zonation (Carney et al. 2005), with a diverse suite of species that occupy restricted bathymetric ranges along any given section of the margin. Major shifts in composition among taxa are observed at the shelf-slope transition zone (canyons <500 m), along the upper slope (1,000 m), and at the lower slope transition zone (<3,000 m) (Gibson et al. 2005).

In the deep sea, macrofaunal assemblages are generally limited by the availability of allochthonous organic material (Rowe et al. 1982, Billet et al. 1983, Rex et al. 2005, Smith et al. 2008) where macrofaunal densities usually decline with depth and distance from the shore (Rowe et al. 1982, Houston and Haedrich 1984, Rex et al. 2005). However, canyon fauna can experience enhanced food supply through the resuspension and deposition of organic-rich sediments, delivered by increased current velocities within the confines of the canyon (Rowe 1971, Shepard et al. 1974). As a result, canyons are often reported as sustaining enhanced abundances and biomass compared with nearby open slope habitats at similar depths (Vetter and Dayton 1998, Duineveld et al. 2001, De Leo et al. 2010) as well as enhancing regional (γ) and local (α) biodiversity (Hecker et al. 1983, Vetter and Dayton 1998, De Leo et al. 2010, Vetter et al. 2010). Furthermore, enhanced habitat heterogeneity can also be a major structuring agent of ecological assemblages, promoting beta (β) diversity (McClain and
Barry 2010) in canyon environments.

Canyon systems have often been described as biodiversity hotspots, especially at mid-slope depths (Levin and Sibuet 2012) where physical processes, characterized by complex patterns in hydrography, promote topographically induced upwelling, enhanced mixing via internal tides, and the focusing of tidal bores (Vetter and Dayton 1998, Cacchione et al. 2002). Additionally, sediment transport and accumulation (García et al. 2008) represent important influential ecological drivers. Factors such as substrata heterogeneity (Levin and Sibuet 2012) and concentration of organic matter (De Leo et al. 2010) have been suggested to explain higher faunal diversity, abundance, and benthic productivity found in canyon systems compared with surrounding areas. Bathymetric patterns of species diversity have been attributed to changes in sediment characteristics (Etter and Grassle 1992), productivity, currents, oxygen, disturbance, and the interplay of biotic effects with depth and latitude (Levin et al. 2001, Carney et al. 2005).

Recent studies report on the uniqueness of canyon benthic communities and habitats and the view that no two canyons are alike (Cunha et al. 2011). Certain submarine canyons may maintain 436 characteristic and unique faunas, but more often canyon macrofaunal assemblages show high dominance and locally reduced biodiversity (Rowe 1971, Gage 1997, Curdia et al. 2004, Cun

Publication Year 2020
Title Benthic infaunal communities of Baltimore and Norfolk Canyons
Authors Craig M. Robertson, Jill Bourque, Amanda Demopoulos
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Index ID 70208152
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center