Most seafloor communities at depths below the photosynthesis zone rely on food that sinks through the water column. However, the nature and strength of this pelagic–benthic coupling and its influence on the structure and diversity of seafloor communities is unclear, especially around Antarctica where ecological data are sparse. Here we show that the strength of pelagic–benthic coupling along the East Antarctic shelf depends on both physical processes and the types of benthic organisms considered. In an approach based on modelling food availability, we combine remotely sensed sea-surface chlorophyll-a, a regional ocean model and diatom abundances from sediment grabs with particle tracking and show that fluctuating seabed currents are crucial in the redistribution of surface productivity at the seafloor. The estimated availability of suspended food near the seafloor correlates strongly with the abundance of benthic suspension feeders, while the deposition of food particles correlates with decreasing suspension feeder richness and more abundant deposit feeders. The modelling framework, which can be modified for other regions, has broad applications in conservation and management, as it enables spatial predictions of key components of seafloor biodiversity over vast regions around Antarctica.

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We thank B. Raymond, S. Wotherspoon and S. Foster for their ideas and support in the analysis of the data, E. Cougnon for her help with the ROMS, and S. Jansen and Jeroen Jansen for their help designing Fig. 1. C. Thun and B. Poignant (Geoscience Australia) prepared samples for the diatom analysis which was funded by a Joint US NSF East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes and Australian Academy of Science Summer Fellowship at Macquarie University to J.P.W. C. Robineau (supported by Institut Polaire Français Paul Émile Victor (IPEV) and the Antarctic program IPEV 1124 REVOLTA) and J. Delaplanque-Lasserre (supported by Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (MNHN)) scored the benthic images. We thank the captain, crew and scientific party of the RV Aurora Australis who obtained the samples during the CEAMARC program as part of the IPY #53 Census of Antarctic Marine Life program, with particular thanks to G. Hosie (CEMARC program leader) and M. Riddle (chief scientist on board the RV Aurora Australis). Coastline and glacial features for the figures are taken from the Antarctic Digital Database version 5. J.J. is supported by a Tasmanian Graduate Research Scholarship and a QAS Top-Up scholarship. A.L.P. publishes with the permission of the Chief Executive Officer, Geoscience Australia. This work was completed as part of Australian Antarctic Science project 4124.

Author information


  1. Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), University of Tasmania, Battery Point, Tasmania, Australia

    • Jan Jansen
    • , Nicole A. Hill
    •  & Craig R. Johnson
  2. Australian Antarctic Division, Kingston, Tasmania, Australia

    • Jan Jansen
    • , John McKinlay
    • , Michael D. Sumner
    •  & Benjamin K. Galton-Fenzi
  3. CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Battery Point, Tasmania, Australia

    • Piers K. Dunstan
  4. Antarctic Climate & Ecosystem Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC), University of Tasmania, Battery Point, Tasmania, Australia

    • Michael D. Sumner
    •  & Benjamin K. Galton-Fenzi
  5. Geoscience Australia, Symonston, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

    • Alexandra L. Post
  6. Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, UMR 7205-ISYEB, MNHN-CNRS-UPMC-EPHE, Paris, France

    • Marc P. Eléaume
  7. Department of Biological Sciences, MQ Marine Research Centre, Macquarie University, North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia

    • Leanne K. Armand
    •  & Jonathan P. Warnock
  8. Department of Geoscience, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA, USA

    • Jonathan P. Warnock


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J.J., N.A.H., C.R.J., P.K.D., A.L.P. and B.K.G.-F. conceived and designed the study. J.J., M.D.S. and J.M. developed the software. J.J., N.A.H., C.R.J., P.K.D., J.M., M.P.E., L.K.A. and J.P.W. analysed the data. J.J. prepared all figures and designed the infographic. J.J., N.A.H. and C.R.J. wrote the paper with contributions from all other authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jan Jansen.

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