Swanborn et al. 2022

scientific article | Coral Reefs

Geomorphological drivers of deeper reef habitats around Seychelles

Swanborn DJB, Fassbender N, Huvenne VAI, Pittman SJ, Stefanoudis PV, Woodall LC


Mesophotic (30–150 m) and rariphotic (150–300 m) deeper reef habitats are important from an ecological and conservation perspective, yet remain understudied. Key knowledge gaps exist on the environmental patterns and processes that drive and shape their geographical distributions. Understanding these is particularly important for regions as the Western Indian Ocean, where deeper reefs are poorly known but support food security and host economically important species. Spatial predictive models of assemblage occurrences, using terrain variables as predictors, offer a solution to address knowledge gaps around deeper reef distributions. We identified relationships between seafloor geomorphology, quantified at multiple scales, and sessile benthic assemblages in four atoll seascapes in Seychelles using terrain models derived from high-resolution multibeam sonar and underwater video surveys. Using random forests and boosted regression trees, we demonstrated that terrain derivatives extracted over multiple scales perform as reliable predictors of deeper reef assemblages. The most influential environmental predictors were depth, distance to shore, topographic complexity, slope and curvature and substrate characteristics. The relative importance of predictors was explained by assemblage functional characteristics. Assemblage–environment relationships were used to produce probability distribution maps that showed similar distributional patterns for identified assemblages across locations, with high occurrence probabilities linked to complex geomorphological structures. Our results help contribute to a consistent baseline understanding of the relationship between seascape structure and mesophotic reef ecosystems in this area. Complex geomorphological structures, including terraces and paleoshorelines, supported high densities of mesophotic assemblages and could be considered priority habitats for management.

Depth range
30- 300 m

Mesophotic “mentions”
37 x (total of 5568 words)

* Presents original data
* Focused on 'mesophotic' depth range
* Focused on 'mesophotic coral ecosystem'

Community structure

Overall benthic (groups)


Manned Submersible
Sonar / Multibeam

Author profiles