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Benthic communities in the deep Mediterranean Sea: exploring microbial and meiofaunal patterns in slope and basin ecosystems

July 25, 2013

The long held perception of the deep sea consisting of monotonous slopes and uniform oceanic basins has over the decades given way to the idea of a complex system with wide habitat heterogeneity. Under the prism of a highly diverse environment, a large dataset was used to describe and compare spatial patterns of the dominant small-size components of deep-sea benthos, metazoan meiofauna and bacteria, from Mediterranean basins and slopes. A grid of 73 stations sampled at five geographical areas along the central-eastern Mediterranean basin (central Mediterranean, northern Aegean Sea, Cretan Sea, Libyan Sea, eastern Levantine) spanning over 4 km in depth revealed a high diversity in terms of both metazoan meiofauna and microbial communities. The higher meiofaunal abundance and richness observed in the northern Aegean Sea highlights the effect of productivity on benthic patterns. Non parametric analyses detected no differences for meiobenthic standing stocks and major taxa diversity (α, β, γ and δ components) between the two habitats (basin vs. slope) for the whole investigated area and within each region, but revealed significant bathymetric trends: abundance and richness follow the well-known gradient of decreasing values with increasing depth, whereas differentiation diversity (β– and δ-diversity) increases with depth. In spite of a similar bathymetric trend observed for nematode genera richness, no clear pattern was detected with regard to habitat type; the observed number of nematode genera suggests higher diversity in slopes, whereas richness estimator Jack1 found no differences between habitats. On the other hand, δ-diversity was higher at the basin habitat, but no differences were found among depth ranges, though turnover values were high in all pairwise comparisons of the different depth categories. Results of multivariate analysis are in line with the above findings, indicating high within habitat variability of meiofaunal communities and a gradual change of meiofaunal structure towards the abyssal stations. In contrast to meiobenthic results, microbial richness is significantly higher at the basin ecosystem and tends to increase with depth, while community structure varies greatly among samples regardless of the type of habitat, depth or area. The results presented here suggest that differences in benthic parameters between the two habitats are neither strong nor consistent; it appears that within habitat variability is high and differences among depth ranges are more important.

Sevastou K, Lampadariou N, Polumenakou P N, Tselepides A, 2012, Benthic communities in the deep Mediterranean Sea: exploring microbial and meiofaunal patterns in slope and basin ecosystems, Biogeosciences Discussions, 9, 17539-17581, doi:10.5194/bgd-9-17539-2012. Article.

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