Wakeford et al. 2023

scientific article | PLoS ONE | open access

Mesophotic benthic communities associated with a submerged palaeoshoreline in Western Australia

Wakeford M, Puotinen M, Nicholas W, Colquhoun J, Vaughan BI, Whalan S, Parnum I, Radford B, Case M, Galaiduk R, Miller KJ


Key ecological features (KEFs) are elements of Australia’s Commonwealth marine environ- ment considered to be important for biodiversity or ecosystem function, yet many KEFs are poorly researched, which can impede effective decision-making about future development and conservation. This study investigates a KEF positioned over the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) shoreline on the northwest shelf of Australia (known as the ‘Ancient Coastline at ~125m depth contour’; AC125). Seafloor bathymetry, sedimentology and benthic habitats were characterised within five study areas using multibeam sonar, sediment samples and towed video imagery. Direct evidence for the existence of a palaeoshoreline formed during the LGM was not found, however candidate areas to find palaeoshoreline material at or just below the modern seabed were discovered. Approximately 98% of the seabed surveyed was comprised of unconsolidated soft sediment habitat (mud/sand/silt) supporting negligible epibenthic biota. The prevalence of soft sediment suggests that post-glacial sediments have infilled parts of the palaeoshoreline, with cross-shelf, probably tidal currents in the northern section of the study area responsible for some of the sediment mobilisation and southern study areas more influenced by oceanic conditions. Within study areas, total biotic cover ranged from 0.02% to 1.07%. Of the biota encountered, most comprised filter feeder organ- isms (including gorgonians, sponges, and whip corals) whose distribution was associated with pockets of consolidated hard substrate. Benthic community composition varied with both study area and position in relation to the predicted AC125. In general, consolidated substrate was proportionally higher in water shallower than the AC125 compared to on the AC125 or deeper than the AC125. Spatially continuous maps of predicted benthic habitat classes (pre-determined benthic communities) in each study area were developed to char- acterise biodiversity. Spatial modelling corroborated depth and large-scale structural com- plexity of the seafloor as surrogates for predicting likely habitat class. This study provides an important assessment of the AC125 and shows that if a distinct coastline exists in the areas we surveyed, it is now largely buried and as such does not provide a unique hard substrate habitat. However, much work remains to fully locate and map the ancient coastline within the vast region of the AC125 and additional surveys in shallow waters adjacent to the AC125 may identify whether some sections lie outside the currently defined KEF.

Depth range
62- 196 m

Mesophotic “mentions”
8 x (total of 8972 words)

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

Community structure
Management and Conservation

Overall benthic (groups)

Australia - Western Australia

Drop / Towed Video
Sonar / Multibeam
Dredging / trawling
Surface-deployed sensors and samplers

Author profiles