The bathymetric zonation and community structure of deep-sea macrobenthos in the northern Gulf of Mexico



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Texas A&M University


Macrobenthos of the deep, northern Gulf of Mexico have been sampled with large box cores along multiple cross-depth transects extending from depths of 200 m out to 3700 m. Four major depth zones have been identified based on the faunal similarities (beta diversity) between geographic sites, with the two intermediate-depth zones being divided horizontally down the middle of the basin. The input of food resources appears to control the observed patterns. Each zone and sub-zone can be described by a characteristic animal density, biomass and biodiversity (alpha diversity). Highest densities and biomass occurred in two large submarine canyons, the Mississippi and De Soto Canyon, but the two habitats are markedly different. The alpha diversity displays an intermediate depth maximum. Species richness (gamma diversity) is highest on east mid-slope, due, we suggest, to habitat complexity, but alpha diversity is lowest at the canyon head due to extreme dominance by amphipods. Small mean individual size and low densities encountered are a reflection of the meager surface water primary production, albeit with exceptional isolated habitats in which detrital material is concentrated, such as canyons on the upper continental slope.