Diaz et al. 2023

scientific article | Diversity and Distributions

Light and temperature drive the distribution of mesophotic benthic communities in the Central Indian Ocean

Diaz C, Howell KL, Robinson E, Hosegood P, Bolton A, Ganderton P, Arber P, Attrill MJ, Foster NL


Aim: Research on mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) has increased exponentially in recent decades, and the significance of this ecosystem has been recognised both in terms of biodiversity and distribution. However, this research has mostly focussed on corals and is globally sporadic, with the Indian Ocean remaining largely unexplored and overall MCEs under protected. Hence, baseline data on MCE benthic communi- ties is lacking, but nonetheless essential for developing adequate management strat- egies. Here, we assess the variation in diversity and community structure of MCEs along the depth gradient and among sites in the Indian Ocean and the environmental parameters that are potentially driving these differences. Location: Egmont Atoll, Chagos Archipelago, central Indian Ocean. Time Period: Present. Major Taxa Studied: Marine benthic invertebrates, plants. Methods: Using a remotely operated vehicle, we collected video transects between 15 and 160 m. We analysed the diversity and composition of benthic communities and used DistLM analysis to determine the environmental drivers of the community structure over the depth gradient and between sites. Results: We observed distinct benthic communities along the depth gradient, with a strong community break observed at ~60 m. We also identified a clear zonation of the benthic taxa with depth. This zonation was primarily driven by downward irradi- ance and temperature, with additional environmental processes playing a minor role in structuring the benthic communities. Main Conclusions: We show that MCEs in the Chagos Archipelago are distinct com- munities, and their distribution is driven primarily by irradiance and temperature. Our results highlight the variability in benthic community structure of MCEs, both along the depth gradient and at local geographical scales for the study region. This study showcases the uniqueness of MCEs and will aid in predicting their distribution, poten- tial refugia for shallow reefs, and in developing evidence-based protection for MCEs, to maintain overall marine biodiversity.

Depth range
15- 160 m

Mesophotic “mentions”
89 x (total of 9527 words)

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

Community structure

Algae (Macro, Turf and Crustose Coralline)
Antipatharia (Black Corals)
Octocorallia (Soft Corals)
Overall benthic (groups)
Scleractinia (Hard Corals)

Chagos Archipelago

In-situ instrumentation
Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV)

Author profiles