Scientia Marina, Vol 75, No 3 (2011)

Deep sea megafaunal assemblages off the northern Iberian slope related to environmental factors

Alberto Serrano
Instituto Español de Oceanografía de Santander , Spain

Francisco Sánchez
Instituto Español de Oceanografía de Santander , Spain

Antonio Punzón
Instituto Español de Oceanografía de Santander , Spain

Francisco Velasco
Instituto Español de Oceanografía de Santander , Spain

Ignacio Olaso
Instituto Español de Oceanografía de Santander , Spain


Four deep sea fish and invertebrate assemblages from the northern Spanish slope were identified and related to geographic and bathymetric factors. The Peñas Cape comprises a boundary area splitting the more productive, wider and sandy western shelf from the less productive, narrow and muddy eastern part. The four faunal assemblages described were a shelf-slope transition assemblage (SST, 400-500 m); two upper slope assemblages (500-650 m), one corresponding to the western area of Cape Peñas and one to the eastern area; and a middle slope assemblage (650-750 m). The SST was dominated by plankton-feeding fish and was hence less diverse than the other strata. This dominance was more evident west of the Peñas Cape, where upwelling was stronger. Regarding invertebrates, plankton-feeding fish and benthos-feeding invertebrates dominated the SST, whereas zooplankton-feeding and deposit-feeding invertebrates dominated the middle slope. The western assemblages were richer in species as a consequence of a more complex food web, especially of guilds related to water column production: plankton-feeding fish and filter- and zooplankton-feeding invertebrates.


deep-sea; slope; spatial distribution; megafaunal communities; demersal species; epibenthos; trophic guilds

Full Text:



Abelló, P., F.J. Valladares and A. Castellón. - 1988. Analysis of the structure of decapod crustacean assemblages off the Catalan coast (North-West Mediterranean). Mar. Biol., 98: 39-49.

Buchanan, J.B. - 1984. Sediment analysis. In: N.A. Holme, A.D. McIntyre (eds.), Methods for the Study of Marine Benthos, pp. 41-65. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.

Carney, R.S. - 2005. Zonation of deep biota in continental margins. Oceanogr. Mar. Biol. Annu. Rev., 43: 211-278.

Cartes, J.E., P. Abelló, D. Lloris, A. Carbonell, P. Torres, F. Maynou and L. Gil de Sola. - 2002. Feeding guilds of western Mediterranean demersal fish and crustaceans: analysis based on a spring survey. Sci. Mar., 66(2): 209-220.

Cartes, J.E., J.B. Company and F. Maynou. - 1994. Deep-water decapod crustacean communities in the Northwestern Mediterranean: influence of submarine canyons and season. Mar. Biol., 157(1): 221-229.

Cartes, J.E., F. Maynou, E. Fanelli, C. Romano, V. Mamouridis and V. Papiol. - 2009. The distribution of megabenthic, invertebrate epifauna in the Balearic Basin (western Mediterranean) between 400 and 2300 m: Environmental gradients influencing assemblages composition and biomass trends. J. Sea Res., 61: 244-257.

Cartes, J.E., A. Serrano, F. Velasco, S. Parra and F. Sánchez. - 2007. Community structure and dynamics of deep-water decapod assemblages from Le Danois Bank (Cantabrian Sea, NE Atlantic): Influence of environmental variables and food availability. Prog. Oceanogr., 75: 797-816 .

Dayton, P.K. and R.R. Hessler. - 1972. Role of biological disturbance in maintaining diversity in the deep sea. Deep-Sea Res., 19: 199-208.

Fariña, C., J. Freire. and E. González-Gurriarán. - 1997. Megabenthic decapod crustacean assemblages on the Galician continental shelf and upper slope (north-west Spain). Mar. Biol., 127: 419-434.

Gage, J.D. - 2003. Food inputs, utilization, carbon flow and energetics. In: Tyler, P.A. (ed.), Ecosystems of the Deep Ocean. Ecosystems of the World 28, pp 313-380. Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Gordon, J.D.M. - 1986. The Fish Populations of the Rockall Trough. Proc. Royal. Soc. Edin. - Series B, 88: 191-207.

Gil, J. - 2008. Macro and mesoscale physical patterns in the Bay of Biscay. J. Mar. Biol. Ass. U.K., 88(2): 217-225.

Grassle, J.F. and N.J. Maciolek. - 1992. Deep-sea species richness: regional and local diversity estimates from quantitative bottom samples. Am. Nat., 139(2): 313-341.

Haedrich R. L. and N.R. Merrett. - 1988. Summary atlas of deep-living demersal fishes in the North Atlantic Basin. J. Nat. Hist., 22: 1325-1362.

Hátíºn, H., J. Arge and A. Sandí¸. - 2007 Environmental influence on the spawning distribution and migration pattern of northern blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou). ICES CM 2007/B:06.

Heino, M. and O.R. Godí¸. - 2002. Blue whiting - a key species in the mid-water ecosystems of the north-eastern Atlantic. ICES CM 2002/L:28.

Hessler, R.R. and H.L. Sanders. - 1967. Faunal diversity in the deep sea. Deep-Sea Res., 14: 65-78.

Iken, K., T. Brey, U. Wand, J. Voigt and P. Junghans. - 2001. Food web structure of the benthic community at the Porcupine Abyssal Plain (NE Atlantic): a stable isotope analysis. Prog. Oceanogr., 50(1-4): 383-405.

Jongman, R.H.G., C.J.F. Ter Braak and O.F.R. Van Tongeren. - 1987. Data analysis in community and landscape ecology. Pudoc Wageningen, 286. Lavín, A., L. Valdés, F. Sánchez, P. Abaunza, A. Forest, J. Boucher, P. Lazure and A.M. Jegou. - 2005. The Bay of Biscay: the encountering of the ocean and the shelf. In: A.R. Robinson and K.H. Brink (eds.), The Sea, vol. 14, part B, ch. 24: 935-1002. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Libralato, S., V. Christensen and D. Pauly. - 2005. A method for identifying keystone species in food web models. Ecol. Model., 195: 153-171.

López-Jamar, E., R.M. Cal, G. González, R.B. Hanson, J. Rey, G. Santiago and K.R. Tenore. - 1992. Upwelling and outwelling effects on the benthic regime of the continental shelf off Galicia, NW Spain. J. Mar. Res., 50: 465-488.

Madurell, T., J.E. Cartes and M. Labropoulou. - 2004. Changes in the structure of fish assemblages in a bathyal site of the Ionian Sea (eastern Mediterranean). Fish. Res., 66: 245-260.

Moranta, J., E. Massutí, M. Palmer and J.D.M. Gordon. - 2007. Geographic and bathymetric trends in abundance, biomass and body size of four grenadier fishes along the Iberian coast in the western Mediterranean. Prog. Oceanogr., 72(1): 63-83.

Mytilineou, C., C-Y. Politou, C. Papaconstantinou, S. Kavadas, G. DâOnghia and L. Sion. - 2005. Deep-water fish fauna in the Eastern Ionian Sea. Belg. J. Zool., 135: 229-233.

Piñeiro, C.G., M. Casas R. and Bañón. - 2001. The deep-water fisheries exploited by Spanish fleets in the Northeast Atlantic: a review of the current status. Fish. Res., 51: 311-320.

Preciado, I., F. Velasco, and I. Olaso. - 2008. The role of pelagic fish as forage for the demersal fish community in the southern Bay of Biscay. J. Mar. Syst., 72: 407-417.

Preciado, I., J.E. Cartes, A. Serrano, F. Velasco, I., Olaso, F. Sánchez and I. Frutos. - 2009 Resource utilisation by deep-sea sharks at the Le Danois Bank, Cantabrian Sea, northeast Atlantic Ocean. J. Fish Biol., 75: 1331-1355. PMid:20738618

Rex, M.A., C.T. Stuart, R.R. Hessler, J.A. Allen, H.L. Sanders and G.D.F. Wilson. - 1993. Global-scale latitudinal patterns of species diversity in the deep-sea benthos. Nature, 365: 636-639.

Rey, J. and T. Medialdea. - 1989. Los sedimentos cuaternarios superficiales del margen continental español. Publ. Esp. Ins. Esp. Oceanogr., 3.

Sabatés, A. and J.M. Gili and F. Pagès, 1989. Relationship between zooplankton distribution, geographic characteristics and hydrographic patterns off the Catalan coast (Western Mediterranean). Mar. Biol.: 103, 153-159.

Sánchez, F. and A. Serrano. - 2003. Variability of groundfish communities of the Cantabrian Sea during the 1990s. ICES Mar. Sci. Symp., 219: 249-260.

Sánchez, F., A. Serrano, S. Parra, M. Ballesteros and J.E. Cartes. - 2008. Habitat characteristics as determinant of the structure and spatial distribution of epibenthic and demersal communities of Le Danois Bank (Cantabrian Sea, N. Spain). J. Mar. Syst., 72: 64-86.

Sanders, H.L. - 1968. Marine benthic diversity: a comparative study. Am. Nat., 102 (925): 243-282.

Serrano, A., F. Sánchez and G. García-Castrillo. - 2006. Epibenthic communities of trawlable grounds of the Cantabrian Sea. Sci. Mar., 70S1: 149-159.

Serrano, A., I. Preciado, E. Abad, F. Sánchez, S. Parra and I. Frutos. - 2008. Spatial distribution patterns of demersal and epibenthic communities on the Galician continental shelf (NW Spain). J. Mar. Syst., 72: 87-100.

Sibuet, M. - 1977. Repartition et diversité des Echinoderms (Holothurides-Astérides) en zone profonde dans le Golfe de Gascogne. Deep-Sea Res., 24: 549-563.

Sorbe, J.C. - 1999. Deep-sea macrofaunal assemblages within the benthic boundary layer of the Cap-Ferret Canyon (Bay of Biscay, NE Atlantic). Deep-Sea Res. II, 46: 2309-2329.

Stuart, C.T., M.A. Rex and R.J. Etter. - 2003. Large-scale spatial and temporal patterns of deep-sea benthic species diversity. In: P.A. Tyler (ed.), Ecosystems of the Deep Ocean. Ecosystems of the World 28, pp. 293-311. Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Thurston, M., Bett, B.; Rice, A., Jackson, P., 1994. Variations in the invertebrate abyssal megafauna in the North Atlantic Ocean. Deep-Sea Res. I, 41, 9: 1321-1348.

Verdonschot, P.F.M. and C.J.F. Ter Braak. - 1994. An experimental manipulation of oligochaete communities in mesocosms treated with chlorophytos or nutrient additions: multivariate analyses with Monte Carlo permutation tests. Hydrobiologica, 278: 251-266.

Copyright (c) 2011 Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Contact us

Technical support