Aim We ask how biodiverse is a polar archipelago; how this faunal richness is spread across marine, intertidal, freshwater, terrestrial and parasitic realms; and how fast species are accumulated with increased sampling effort.
Location The South Orkney Islands (SOI), Scotia Arc, Southern Ocean.
Methods We sampled mega- and macro-benthos at the SOI using scuba in the shallows (0–10 m), a rough bottom otter trawl at 150–250 m and an Agassiz trawl and epibenthic sledge, both at depths of 200, 500, 1000 and 1500 m. We also collated species occurrence at the SOI in each realm from a century of literature and modern databases to investigate patterns in species accumulation, endemism, faunistic affinities and bathymetric ranges in three model taxa.
Results Our 11 benthic samples showed that point biodiversity at the SOI is high, yielding 19 classes and 158 species. Nearly a third were new to the area, whilst five species and one genus were new to science. The shallowest samples were richest but had fewest new records of species. Known richness at the SOI is dominated by marine species (1026), of which 821 (83.3%) were benthic. Across all realms, 1224 species (50 classes, 24 phyla) were recorded, of which 43 were intertidal, 64 freshwater, 100 terrestrial, 60 parasitic and 40 birds. Species accumulation curves for model taxa showed new sampling yields about 0.75% per sample of known benthic richness, so by Antarctic standards we know the SOI quite well. Most species are Southern Ocean endemics, but very few occur only at the SOI.
Main conclusions This first estimate of faunal biodiversity of a polar locality demonstrates both high richness and high levels of knowledge at the SOI. As suspected but never quantified, the benthos dominates polar biodiversity, at least at the SOI. Marine species there constitute 20% of those recently listed for the entire Southern Ocean, whilst > 60% of terrestrial species are known from Antarctica. The SOI, being one of the better-studied polar locations, of known age and with a discrete shelf, represent an important source of comparison for biodiversity studies. Our data clearly show that richness and our knowledge of the polar fauna differ across environments.