Species richness of marine Bryozoa in the continental shelf and slope off Argentina (south-west Atlantic)



Abstract.  A total of 246 marine bryozoan species was recorded within an area of the south-west Atlantic between 35° and 56°S, and between the coast of Argentina and 50°W. The distribution pattern of benthic stations surveyed during the most important cruises in the area shows that the sampling effort has been biased towards southern shelf areas off Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego, as well as around the Malvinas (Falkland) islands. The littoral zone, Patagonian gulfs and the continental shelf off Chubut, Río Negro and Buenos Aires state received less attention, and should be surveyed more intensively in the future. Only 2% of the species can be regarded as non-indigenous, all of them inhabiting biofouling communities in harbour environments. With the exception of some thoroughly surveyed localities, the number of species recorded for different areas of the coast, shelf and slope is estimated to be just a small fraction of the actual number of species present. A distinct diversity gradient was found, with species-rich stations located only in the southern shelf. Highest diversity occurred in shelf areas dominated by coarse sediments, and along a high-productivity shelf-break front. A remarkable decrease in species richness was found in inner and middle shelf areas off Chubut, Río Negro and Buenos Aires state. This pattern may be related to the Pacific origin of the Magellanic fauna, since the diversity of bryozoans is higher in the Pacific than in the Atlantic Ocean. The trend of species richness is, however, overemphasized by the fact that the least diverse faunistic assemblage occurs in areas where surveys have been relatively less frequent. An up-to-date checklist of species recorded for the study area is included.