Community structure of vestimentiferan-generated habitat islands from Gulf of Mexico cold seeps

TitleCommunity structure of vestimentiferan-generated habitat islands from Gulf of Mexico cold seeps
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2003
Refereed DesignationRefereed
AuthorsBergquist, D. C., Ward T., Cordes E. E., McNelis T., Howlett S., Kosoff R., Hourdez S., Carney R., & Fisher C. R.
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology

Biologically generated structures create habitat and influence the distribution and abundance of species in many marine systems. In the rather monotonous and nutrient-poor environment of the deep-sea, cold seep environments and their associated chemosynthetic communities offer islands of primary production and habitat to a generally sparsely distributed macrofauna. In this study, we investigate the structure of macrofaunal assemblages associated with vestimentiferan aggregations on the upper Louisiana slope of the Gulf of Mexico and the relationships between assemblage composition and the size and complexity of the vestimentiferan-generated habitat. Using custom-designed and custom-built devices, we collected seven whole vestimentiferan aggregations along with their associated fauna during the summers of 1997 and 1998. Sixty-five species were found associated with the four vestimentiferan aggregations collected in 1998, more than doubling the number of species previously reported for seeps in this region. Individual aggregations contained between 23 and 44 different non-vestimentiferan species. General trends of increasing species richness with increasing habitat size and increasing faunal density with increasing habitat complexity were identified, but substantial variability suggested other factors also control the composition of faunal associates. Faunal abundances decreased with increasing aggregation age. Seep endemics dominated the communities of younger aggregations, but non-endemic species dominated communities of older aggregations. Relative dominance of the heterotrophic community by primary consumers decreased, while predatory secondary and higher-order consumers increased with increasing aggregation age. These trends are discussed in terms of successional changes in aggregation structure, habitat heterogeneity and environmental conditions.