Biological structures as a source of habitat heterogeneity and biodiversity on the deep ocean margins


Lene Buhl-Mortensen, Institute of Marine Research, Benthic habitat group, P.O. Box 1870 Nordnes, N-5817 Bergen, Norway


Biological structures exert a major influence on species diversity at both local and regional scales on deep continental margins. Some organisms use other species as substrates for attachment, shelter, feeding or parasitism, but there may also be mutual benefits from the association. Here, we highlight the structural attributes and biotic effects of the habitats that corals, sea pens, sponges and xenophyophores offer other organisms. The environmental setting of the biological structures influences their species composition. The importance of benthic species as substrates seems to increase with depth as the complexity of the surrounding geological substrate and food supply decline. There are marked differences in the degree of mutualistic relationships between habitat-forming taxa. This is especially evident for scleractinian corals, which have high numbers of facultative associates (commensals) and few obligate associates (mutualists), and gorgonians, with their few commensals and many obligate associates. Size, flexibility and architectural complexity of the habitat-forming organism are positively related to species diversity for both sessile and mobile species. This is mainly evident for commensal species sharing a facultative relationship with their host. Habitat complexity is enhanced by the architecture of biological structures, as well as by biological interactions. Colony morphology has a great influence on feeding efficiency for suspension feeders. Suspension feeding, habitat-forming organisms modify the environment to optimize their food uptake. This environmental advantage is also passed on to associated filter-feeding species. These effects are poorly understood but represent key points for understanding ecosystems and biodiversity on continental margins. In this paper we explore the contributions of organisms and the biotic structures they create (rather than physical modifications) to habitat heterogeneity and diversity on the deep continental margins.