Understanding the structure and interrelationships of North Sea benthic invertebrate and fish communities and their underlying environmental drivers is an important prerequisite for conservation and spatial ecosystem management on scales relevant to ecological processes. Datasets of North Sea infauna, epifauna, and demersal fish (1999–2002) were compiled and analysed to (i) identify and compare spatial patterns in community structure, and (ii) relate these to environmental variables. The multivariate analyses revealed significantly similar large-scale patterns in all three components with major distinctions between a southern community (Oyster Ground and German Bight), an eastern Channel and southern coastal community, and at least one northern community (>50 m deep). In contrast, species diversity patterns differed between the components with a diversity gradient for infauna and epifauna decreasing from north to south, and diversity hotspots of demersal fish, e.g. near the major inflows of Atlantic water. The large-scale hydrodynamic variables were the main drivers for the structuring of communities, whereas sediment characteristics appeared to be less influential, even for the infauna communities. The delineation of ecologically meaningful ecosystem management units in the North Sea might be based on the structure of the main faunal ecosystem components
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