Factors Shaping Macrofaunal Polychaete Communities in the Gulf of Mexico



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This dissertation addresses large-scale trends in composition, density, taxonomic and functional diversity in deep-sea benthic polychaete communities in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). The study includes samples from two major sampling programs: the Deep Gulf of Mexico Benthos (DGoMB) program (2000?2002) (51 stations, 200-3700 m) and the SIGSBEE program (Universidad Nacional Aut?noma de M?xico), 2008-2010 (27 stations on the Sigsbee Abyssal Plain). Polychaete density decreased exponentially with depth. Alpha diversity did not show a mid-depth maximum and reached its peak near the Mississippi trough. Feeding guild diversity was also highest in the Mississippi trough. The environmental parameters that determine diversity and density of polychaete assemblages and species distribution ranges were examined. Depth, export flux of particulate organic carbon (POC), percent sand and silt were the best predictors of heterogeneity of polychaetes in the GoM. We performed an ecological niche modeling analysis (ENM) based on ?presence-only? data of four cosmopolitan species belonging to the Cirratulidae and Spionidae in the GoM.

The GoM, being a semi-enclosed ocean basin, offers complex topographic features and hydrographic processes. Comparisons of the overall polychaete diversity and richness patterns from this study for this region indicate a strong geographic variation with increasing depth and distance from the shore. Additionally, the environmental gradients observed play a major role in shaping the spatial distribution of polychaete communities in this region.