Aim To investigate whether the biogeographical regions proposed by J. W. Hedgpeth and widely adopted by other authors hold true, are an oversimplification or with further data might show a unified Antarctic province.
Location Southern Hemisphere.
Methods The distributions of 1318 species of bivalves, 4656 species of gastropods, 1465 species of cheilostome and 167 species of cyclostome bryozoans were analysed for 29 regions in the Southern Hemisphere, including South American, South African, Tasmanian, New Zealand, sub-Antarctic and Antarctic regions. We present data on species richness, rates of endemism, patterns of radiation, faunal similarities and multivariate biogeographical analyses.
Results The most striking pattern to emerge from our data set of species counts per region was a strong east–west hemispheric asymmetry, with high species numbers in New Zealand, Tasmania and South Africa and low numbers in South America. In contrast, no difference was found in richness between the east and west parts of the Southern Ocean. We compared findings in our model taxa with published data on ascidians, cephalopods and pycnogonids. Further evidence of strong faunal links between the Antarctic and South America is reported in this study, although we found little evidence for a biogeographical relationship between the Antarctic or South America and New Zealand/Tasmania. Strong evidence exists for a long-term influence of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current upon the distribution of Southern Ocean benthos. This is demonstrated by the reduced prevalence of South American species in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic with increasing distance from South America in the direction of the current. Three of our four study taxa (bivalves, cheilostomes and cyclostomes) show the Southern Ocean as a ‘single functional unit’ with no evidence for a biogeographical split between east and west.
Main conclusions Unlike the biogeographical schemes previously proposed, we show that biogeographical regions in the Southern Ocean differ depending upon the class of animals being considered. Despite this we suggest that some general rules are viable, including species endemism rates of around 50%, a single Antarctic province and a definite distinction between the sub-Antarctic islands influenced by South America and those of New Zealand.