Distribution and temporal variation of mega-fauna at the Regab pockmark (Northern Congo Fan), based on a comparison of videomosaics and geographic information systems analyses



The Regab pockmark is a large cold seep area located 10 km north of the Congo deep sea channel at about 3160 m water depth. The associated ecosystem hosts abundant fauna, dominated by chemosynthetic species such as the mussel Bathymodiolus aff. boomerang, vestimentiferan tubeworm Escarpia southwardae, and vesicomyid clams Laubiericoncha chuni and Christineconcha regab. The pockmark was visited during the West African Cold Seeps (WACS) cruise with RV Pourquoi Pas? in February 2011, and a 14,000-m2 high-resolution videomosaic was constructed to map the most populated area and to describe the distribution of the dominant megafauna (mussels, tubeworms and clams). The results are compared with previous published works, which also included a videomosaic in the same area of the pockmark, based on images of the BIOZAIRE cruise in 2001. The 10-year variation of the faunal distribution is described and reveals that the visible abundance and distribution of the dominant megafaunal populations at Regab have not changed significantly, suggesting that the overall methane and sulfide fluxes that reach the faunal communities have been stable. Nevertheless, small and localized distribution changes in the clam community indicate that it is exposed to more transient fluxes than the other communities. Observations suggest that the main megafaunal aggregations at Regab are distributed around focused zones of high flux of methane-enriched fluids likely related to distinct smaller pockmark structures that compose the larger Regab pockmark. Although most results are consistent with the existing successional models for seep communities, some observations in the distribution of the Regab mussel population do not entirely fit into these models. This is likely due to the high heterogeneity of this site formed by the coalescence of several pockmarks. We hypothesize that the mussel distribution at Regab could also be controlled by the occurrence of zones of both intense methane fluxes and reduced efficiency of the anaerobic oxidation of methane possibly limiting tubeworm colonization.