Local habitat drivers of macrobenthos in the northern, central and southern KwaZulu-Natal Bight, South Africa
The relatively wide KwaZulu-Natal Bight between St Lucia and Durban on the north-east shelf of South Africa is characterised by several circulation features driven by the Agulhas Current, wind and coastal inputs. A large multidisciplinary programme investigated the sources and relative influences of nutrients on the shelf. Within this, and to address a critical knowledge gap, this study describes macrobenthic (<1 mm) composition and frequency from 16 stations, assigned amongst four oceanographic focus areas. The areas were predetermined across the disciplines to represent upwelling, outwelling and a semi-persistent eddy, with nutrients and primary productivity being measured at each. Environmental variables such as sediment distribution, sediment TOC and bottom water physico-chemistry were determined at a significantly larger spatial scale. Our study postulated that oceanographic focus areas support significantly different macrobenthic assemblages, and that composition and relative distribution is due to measurable habitat attributes at each. Macrofauna were relatively abundant and particularly rich at >1 000 taxa. Annelida, Arthropoda, Mollusca, Echinodermata, Sipuncula and Cnidaria (>50 taxa each) were the dominant macrobenthic groups in the bight. Annelida were dominated by the polychaete families Spionidae, Terrebelidae and Cirratullidae, which were generally associated with outwelling and a mud depocentre off the Thukela River. Two unique and distinctive assemblages were found, one in the Thukela Mouth focus area and another on the midshelf between Thukela and Durban. The latter is influenced by poorly sorted, coarse sand and with probable influences from the Durban Eddy. There assemblages were abundant, rich and specific to this habitat. Correlation, PERMANOVA and CAP analyses showed assemblage fidelity to the focus areas. Medium sand, fine sand, mud and the variance of overall sediment type were the habitat drivers underlying macrofaunal abundance distributions.
Keywords: macrofauna, soft sediment ecology, spatial variability