Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Patterns in the distribution of feeding-biology categories of polychaetous annelids were used to characterize benthic habitats of the Middle Atlantic Bight. Feeding biology classifications were based on recent publications regarding polychaete feeding and on gut-contents analyses of polychaetes collected in the study area. Proportion of carnivorous polychaetes was greatest in coarser sediments, and decreased significantly with depth across the continental shelf. Surface deposit feeders numerically dominated most habitats. Abundance of surface deposit feeders decreased across the continental shelf and sharply increased at the shelf break, paralleling the pattern of water-column production. Proportion of subsurface deposit feeders was greatest in fine-sediment habitats, and increased significantly with depth and percent organic carbon across the continental shelf. Sessile polychaetes generally inhabited physically stable habitats of the study area. Proportion of sessile polychaetes was positively correlated with percent silt and clay and percent organic carbon. Feeding-morphology categories were generally less closely related to habitat differences than were feeding or motility categories. These results suggest that the diverse assemblages of polychaetes that inhabit topographic depressions of the Middle Atlantic Bight may be dependent on stability of sediment parameters. Furthermore, distribution and abundance of surface deposit feeders may depend on food resources from water-column production, and distribution of sessile polychaetes may be limited by physical disturbance.



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