Spatial patterns of continental shelf faunal community structure along the Western Antarctic Peninsula

PLoS One. 2020 Oct 1;15(10):e0239895. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0239895. eCollection 2020.


Knowledge of continental shelf faunal biodiversity of Antarctica is patchy and as such, the ecology of this unique ecosystem is not fully understood. To this end, we deployed baited cameras at 20 locations along ~ 500 km of the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) at depths from 90 to 797 m. We identified 111 unique taxa, with mud bottom accounting for 90% of the dominant (≥ 50% cover) habitat sampled. Amphipoda comprised 41% of the total maximum number of individuals per camera deployment (MaxN) and occurred on 75% of deployments. Excluding this taxon, the highest MaxN occurred around King George/25 de Mayo Island and was driven primarily by the abundance of krill (Euphausiidae), which accounted for 36% of total average MaxN among deployments around this island. In comparison, krill comprised 22% of total average MaxN at Deception Island and only 10% along the peninsula. Taxa richness, diversity, and evenness all increased with depth and depth explained 18.2% of the variation in community structure among locations, which may be explained by decreasing ice scour with depth. We identified a number of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystem taxa, including habitat-forming species of cold-water corals and sponge fields. Channichthyidae was the most common fish family, occurring on 80% of all deployments. The Antarctic jonasfish (Notolepis coatsorum) was the most frequently encountered fish taxa, occurring on 70% of all deployments and comprising 25% of total MaxN among all deployments. Nototheniidae was the most numerically abundant fish family, accounting for 36% of total MaxN and was present on 70% of the deployments. The WAP is among the fastest warming regions on Earth and mitigating the impacts of warming, along with more direct impacts such as those from fishing, is critical in providing opportunities for species to adapt to environmental change and to preserve this unique ecosystem.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antarctic Regions
  • Anthozoa / physiology
  • Biodiversity*
  • Extreme Environments*
  • Fishes / physiology
  • Porifera / physiology
  • Seawater

Grant support

We received funding from The Brooks Foundation, The Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, The Case Foundation, Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Davidoff, The Don Quixote Foundation, Roger and Rosemary Enrico Foundation, Helmsley Charitable Trust, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Fund, Philip Stephenson Foundation, Vicki and Roger Sant, The Waitt Foundation, and The National Geographic Society. Rodolfo Werner was supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition. César A. Cárdenas was supported by the INACH Marine Protected Area program. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.