MEPS 244:285-297 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps244285

Species richness of marine soft sediments

John S. Gray*

Department of Biology, University of Oslo, Pb 1064, Blindern 0316, Oslo, Norway

ABSTRACT: Marine soft sediments comprise one of the largest and oldest habitats in the world, yet remarkably little is known about patterns of species richness. Here I present a short review of patterns of species richness and possible factors that influence such patterns. Species richness in general is remarkably high in both shallow coastal areas and the deep sea. However, there are clear differences‹the deep-sea has higher number of species for a given number of individuals than the coast. This can be explained by the larger amounts of primary production that reach coastal compared with deep-sea sediments, leading to higher numbers of individuals per unit area. Species density (the number of species per unit area) is also higher in the deep-sea than in coastal areas, but it is not obvious why this is so. Most studies of the broad patterns of species richness have used samples taken at small scales only. The problem with such analyses is that unless a large number of samples are taken, the true underlying pattern (or lack of it) may be wrongly interpreted. Recent studies have analysed species richness at larger scales. In general there seems to be a cline of increasing species richness from the Arctic to the tropics, but this is not the case in the southern hemisphere, where Antarctic species richness is high. However, it is not known whether high species richness in the Antarctic occurs at all spatial scales. To what extent these patterns are determined by evolutionary factors remains to be determined by the application of molecular methods. The available evidence suggests that environmental factors such as productivity, temperature, and sediment grain-size diversity play dominant roles in determining patterns of regional-scale species richness and patterns in species turnover, and it is probably the regional scale that primarily determines local species richness.


KEY WORDS: Diversity · Deep sea · Coasts · Patterns · Scales


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