Strong depth-related zonation of megabenthos on a rocky continental margin (∼700–4000 m) off southern Tasmania, Australia
Thresher, Ronald E.
Adkins, Jess F.
Cho, Walter W.
Gagnon, Alexander C.
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Assemblages of megabenthos are structured in seven depth-related zones between ~700 and 4000 m on the rocky and topographically complex continental margin south of Tasmania, southeastern Australia. These patterns emerge from analysis of imagery and specimen collections taken from a suite of surveys using photographic and in situ sampling by epibenthic sleds, towed video cameras, an autonomous underwater vehicle and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). Seamount peaks in shallow zones had relatively low biomass and low diversity assemblages, which may be in part natural and in part due to effects of bottom trawl fishing. Species richness was highest at intermediate depths (1000–1300 m) as a result of an extensive coral reef community based on the bioherm-forming scleractinian Solenosmilia variabilis. However, megabenthos abundance peaked in a deeper, low diversity assemblage at 2000–2500 m. The S. variabilis reef and the deep biomass zone were separated by an extensive dead, sub-fossil S. variabilis reef and a relatively low biomass stratum on volcanic rock roughly coincident with the oxygen minimum layer. Below 2400 m, megabenthos was increasingly sparse, though punctuated by occasional small pockets of relatively high diversity and biomass. Nonetheless, megabenthic organisms were observed in the vast majority of photographs on all seabed habitats and to the maximum depths observed - a sandy plain below 3950 m. Taxonomic studies in progress suggest that the observed depth zonation is based in part on changing species mixes with depth, but also an underlying commonality to much of the seamount and rocky substrate biota across all depths. Although the mechanisms supporting the extraordinarily high biomass in 2000–2500 m depths remains obscure, plausible explanations include equatorwards lateral transport of polar production and/or a response to depth-stratified oxygen availability.
© The Author(s), 2014. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in PLoS One 9 (2014): e85872, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0085872.
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