Scientia Marina, Vol 70, No S3 (2006)

Body size response of abyssal polychaetes to different nutrient regimes

Gordon L J Paterson
Department of Zoology, The Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom

Adrian G. Glover
Department of Zoology, The Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom

Claire Tillman
Department of Zoology, The Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom


Analyses of body size of abyssal polychaetes were made from sites experiencing different levels of nutrient flux in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Measuring polychaetes was problematical due to high levels of fragmentation, and width of the first chaetiger was used as a surrogate for body size. Results indicated that polychaetes were significantly smaller in Atlantic areas experiencing seasonal or periodic input of phytodetritus. This observation held not just for comparison of sizes of the total assemblage but also when comparisons were made at the family and species level. Not all families showed a response. In the Atlantic, individuals belonging to the families Cirratulidae, Spionidae and Sabellidae indicated size differences, while in the Pacific spionids were significantly smaller from phytodetrital sites. At the species level, six species - all deposit feeders - were significantly smaller from phytodetrital sites, while two nominally predator/omnivore species showed an increase in size. Two hypotheses for the size frequency of the Atlantic populations from phytodetrital sites are suggested – the juvenile recruitment hypothesis where the smaller population body size is because of an influx of newly recruited juveniles; and the allometric plasticity hypothesis which postulates a physiological response from populations from non-phytodetrital areas delaying reproduction and putting more energy into growth, hence resulting in a larger body size. It is hypothesised that the larger size in non-phytodetrital sites may be a response to starvation.


deep-sea; infauna; body size; Atlantic Ocean; Pacific Ocean; phytodetritus

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Copyright (c) 2006 Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC)

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