Rich and rare—First insights into species diversity and abundance of Antarctic abyssal Gastropoda (Mollusca)
The abyssal depths of the polar oceans are thought to be low in diversity compared with the shallower polar shelves and temperate and tropical deep-sea basins. Our recent study on the gastropod fauna of the deep Southern Ocean gives evidence of the existence of a rich gastropod assemblage at abyssal depths. During the ANDEEP I and II expeditions to the southern Drake Passage, Northwestern Weddell Sea, and South Sandwich Trench, gastropods were collected by bottom and Agassiz trawls, epibenthic sledge, and multicorer, at 40 stations in depths between 127 and 5194 m. On the whole, 473 specimens, corresponding to 93 species of 36 families, were obtained. Of those, 414 specimens were caught below 750 m depth and refer to 84 (90%) benthic species of 32 (89%) families. Most families were represented by a single species only. The numerically dominant families were Skeneidae and Buccinidae (with 10 and 11 species, respectively), Eulimidae and Trochidae (with 9 species each), and Turridae (6 species). Thirty-Seven benthic deep-sea species (44%) were represented by a single specimen, and another 20 species (24%) were found at a single station, suggesting that more than two thirds of Antarctic deep-sea gastropod species are very rare or have a very scattered distribution. Of the 27 species occurring at two or more deep-sea stations, 14 were collected with different gear. Approximately half of the deep-water species are new to science or have been recently described. The present investigation increases the total number of recorded benthic Antarctic deep-sea gastropods (below 750 m) from 115 to 177. The previously known depth ranges have been extended, often considerably, for 31 species. The collected deep-sea gastropods comprise both eurybathic shelf species (29%) and apparently true deep-sea species (58%); some of the latter may belong to a so far unknown Antarctic abyssal fauna. Geographical ranges of the collected Antarctic benthic deep-sea gastropod species appear limited, and all these 84 species seem endemic to Antarctica south of the Polar Front. Comparing diversity and abundances based on epibenthic sledge samples, there is no clear relationship between Antarctic deep-sea gastropod abundance and species richness with depth. However, both Antarctic and adjacent deep-sea areas are still far from being adequately sampled to allow more comprehensive conclusions.