We have limited understanding of which environmental factors structure the distribution patterns and composition of Antarctic macrobenthos assemblages, and the spatial scales on which such factors operate. In 2004, the “BioRoss Survey” was conducted on the northwestern Ross Sea shelf between Cape Adare and Cape Hallett in depths of 50–750 m to describe and quantify the assemblage patterns of benthic macroinvertebrates. In order to determine the influence of primary productivity, disturbance and habitat heterogeneity on the distribution and composition of the macrofaunal assemblages, polychaete data derived from 52 grab samples were analysed. Although differences in the composition of polychaete assemblages among different sampling transects and depth strata were not particularly pronounced (yet statistically significant), the results suggested that large-scale differences in both primary productivity and iceberg disturbance influence distribution patterns. The combination of sediment chl a content, sorting coefficient, sponge spicule content and distance to the nearest iceberg scour best explained polychaete assemblage patterns. This finding supports previous contentions that multiple environmental drivers working at varying scales influence Antarctic shelf assemblages. The results do not supply support for a pronounced decoupling of pelagic and benthic systems, as has been suggested by another study of deeper water benthic assemblages on the Ross Sea shelf
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