Mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) support diverse communities of marine organisms with changes in community structure occurring along a depth gradient. In recent years, MCEs have gained attention due to their depths that provide protection from natural and anthropogenic stressors and their relative stability over evolutionary time periods, yet ecological structures of fish assemblages in MCEs remain largely un-documented. Here, we investigated composition and trophic structure of reef fish assemblages in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) along a depth gradient from 1 to 67 m. The structure of reef fish assemblages as a whole showed a clear gradient from shallow to mesophotic depths. Fish assemblages at mesophotic depths had higher total densities than those in shallower waters, and were characterized by relatively high densities of planktivores and invertivores and relatively low densities of herbivores. Fishes that typified assemblages at mesophotic depths included six species that are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. The present study showed that mesophotic reefs in the NWHI support unique assemblages of fish that are characterized by high endemism and relatively high densities of planktivores. Our findings underscore the ecological importance of these undersurveyed ecosystems and warrant further studies of MCEs.
USA - Hawaii