A diversity baseline of benthic macrofauna along the northwestern insular slope of Cuba (Gulf of Mexico)




Schiereck, Samantha


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The Gulf of Mexico (GoM) is a unique ecosystem due to the physical characteristics influenced primarily by the Mississippi River in the North and the Loop Current, which originates in the south, resulting in a gradient of organic to carbonate sediment composition. The continental slope of the northern (US) and southwestern (Mexico) portions of the GoM are generally well studied; however, very little is known about the southeastern GoM along the slope of Cuba. To fill this knowledge gap, sediment cores were collected in 2017 at nine stations (974–1580 m depth) to gather baseline data and determine controls on the deep-sea benthic macrofauna community. Oceanographic data indicated a stratified water column typical of an oligotrophic ocean and no evidence of hypoxia. Sediment texture and composition indicated a west-east gradient likely determined by downslope transport of terrigenous material in the eastern part with a high proportion of carbonate in the west. Heavy metals (Cu, Hg, Pb, and Zn) at concentrations known to cause benthic effects were present in the east near the major city of Havana, with the macrofauna community showing characteristics indicative of environmental stress. Stations had a low overall average diversity (15 families/79 cm2) and abundance (7,980/ m2), with high variability among replicates within the stations. The diversity was 48% less, and the abundance was 14% less than in the northern GoM. The major factors influencing macrofauna communities in the continental slope off northwestern Cuba are most likely the lack of organically rich sediment, low sediment deposition rates, and the strong current.


A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Marine Biology.


benthic, continental slope, deep-sea



Attribution (CC BY)