Distribution and feeding modes of macrobenthos within three oceanographic feature areas of the KwaZulu-Natal Bight, South Africa
The composition and distribution of macrobenthic communities was investigated in three areas in the KwaZulu- Natal Bight, a section of shelf off the east coast of South Africa. Areas were pre-selected on the basis of three known oceanographic features, posited to deliver land- or Agulhas Current-derived nutrients onto the shelf and to drive ecosystem functioning in this region. Replicate sediment samples were collected with a 0.2 m2 van Veen grab, during two surveys (A, B) corresponding with normal periods of high and low rainfall, respectively. A subset of the full station array was selected across the shelf in an arrangement of increasing depths (inner-, mid- and outer shelf) through each feature area to investigate the spatial distribution and feeding modes of macrobenthic taxa. The two periods showed some differences in abundance and numbers of macrobenthic taxa, but were not statistically different. Total macrobenthic abundance from Survey A was 20 215 individuals from 642 taxa, decreasing to 18 000 individuals from 503 taxa during Survey B. Polychaeta and Crustacea were the dominant taxa sampled; abundance of the latter was attributed largely to a proliferation of Paguristes sp.1 at inner-shelf samples in the midbight (Thukela) region during Survey B. Similarity classification distinguished seven sample groups reflecting differences in feature areas and shelf positions under investigation. The Thukela River midshelf community supported the highest macrobenthic abundance, while the midshelf off the southern bight (Durban region) was most species rich. Findings were attributed to the habitat complexity of the midshelf which includes a palaeo-dune cordon at the 60 m isobath. Functionally, the community was dominated by interface- and deposit-feeding fauna, emphasising the importance of trophic plasticity in an environmentally variable and heterogeneous shelf environment.
Keywords: community analysis, continental shelf, feeding guilds, soft sediments, zoobenthos