Benthic Marine Fauna and Flora of Two Nearshore Coastal Locations in the Western and Central Canadian Arctic
Baseline data on nearshore benthic macrofauna and flora assemblages are necessary for successful environmental monitoring in the Arctic, where major climate and industrial changes are underway, yet to date these environments remain understudied. This study used bottom video and benthic grab samples to compare shallow benthic marine (1 – 40 m) floral and faunal distribution and composition in two nearshore locations in the Canadian Arctic with different geomorphic settings. Sachs Harbour, located on southwestern Banks Island, has a submergent soft-sediment shoreline with locally rapid coastal erosion, while Gjoa Haven, located on southeastern King William Island, has an emergent shoreline dominated by coarse ice-contact Quaternary sediments with little to no coastal erosion. Gjoa Haven’s sediment-starved, heterogeneous nearshore area contributes to a more diverse macroalgal flora than is found at Sachs Harbour, where a continuous supply of sand and mud from thermally driven coastal erosion and muddy runoff produces a more homogeneous nearshore environment. Seventy-four species (10 macroalgae, 64 macrofauna) were recorded from southwestern Banks Island and 65 species (26 macroalgae, 39 macrofauna) from southeastern King William Island. Species composition differed greatly among locations and varied significantly among substrate and depth classes for grab- and video-sampled biota at Gjoa Haven and among depth classes for bottom video biota at Sachs Harbour. Faunally barren, shallow, mobile sand sheets were the dominant habitat sampled in Sachs Harbour. Gjoa Haven’s habitats differed significantly along a depth gradient, with sand and gravel substrates covered by Fucus sp. at depths shallower than 10 m and muddy substrates with filamentous green algae, Coccotylus truncatus, and cerianthid anemones inhabiting water down to 40 m.