This study examines whether or not biogeographical and/or managerial divisions across the European seas can be validated using soft-bottom macrobenthic community data. The faunal groups used were: all macrobenthos groups, polychaetes, molluscs, crustaceans, echinoderms, sipunculans and the last 5 groups combined. In order to test the discriminating power of these groups, 3 criteria were used: (1) proximity, which refers to the expected closer faunal resemblance of adjacent areas relative to more distant ones; (2) randomness, which in the present context is a measure of the degree to which the inventories of the various sectors, provinces or regions may in each case be considered as a random sample of the inventory of the next largest province or region in a hierarchy of geographic scales; and (3) differentiation, which provides a measure of the uniqueness of the pattern. Results show that only polychaetes fulfill all 3 criteria and that the only marine biogeographic system supported by the analyses is the one proposed by Longhurst (1998). Energy fluxes and other interactions between the planktonic and benthic domains, acting over evolutionary time scales, can be associated with the multivariate pattern derived from the macrobenthos datasets. Third-stage multidimensional scaling ordination reveals that polychaetes produce a unique pattern when all systems are under consideration. Average island distance from the nearest coast, number of islands and the island surface area were the geographic variables best correlated with the community patterns produced by polychaetes. Biogeographic patterns suggest a vicariance model dominating over the founder-dispersal model except for the semi-closed regional seas, where a model substantially modified from the second option could be supported.
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