• Antarctica;
  • benthos;
  • ice-shelf collapse;
  • Larsen;
  • nematodes


Owing to large-scale ice-shelf disintegration events, the Antarctic Larsen A and B areas recently became ice-free. During the ANT-XXIII/8 Polarstern campaign, this region was sampled for the first time. Our study is the first to investigate benthic communities in this area and their response to the collapse of ice shelves in the Antarctic. The nematofauna appears to be strongly influenced by the sudden ice-cover removal, although its response differs from that of the macro- and megabenthos. Our results indicate that precollapse, sub-ice communities were impoverished and characterized by low densities, low diversity and high dominance of a few taxa. This might still be visible at a station located deep inside the Larsen B embayment, where Halomonhystera was dominant. Post-collapse recolonization of the ‘inner’ stations, i.e. those located furthermost from the former ice-shelf edge, is believed to be a long-time process. At the time of sampling, community structure at the inner stations was not or only slightly influenced by colonization, and might be structured by local environmental conditions. Our results indicate that a locally increased food supply after ice-cover removal could provoke a faster, local response of the nematode assemblages compared with the response due to recolonization. Thalassomonhystera is recognized as an opportunist, taking advantage of increased food supply at inner stations A_South and B_North. Communities living close to the former ice-shelf edge are believed to be at an intermediate or late stage of succession, with a dominance of Microlaimus, a common Antarctic genus and quick colonizer. Densities here were comparable with those at other Antarctic stations, whereas they were considerably decreased at the inner stations. In general, the collapse of the Larsen ice shelves initially has a positive effect on the shelf nematode fauna in the area, both in terms of abundance and diversity.