Marine diversity across the Australian continental shelf is shaped by characteristic benthic habitats which are determined by geomorphic features such as paleoshorelines. In northwestern Australia there has been little attention on the fish communities that inhabit an ancient coastline at ~125 m depth (the designated AC125), which is specified as a key ecological feature (KEF) of the region and is thought to comprise hard substrate and support enhanced diversity. We investigated drivers of fish species richness and assemblage composition spanning six degrees of latitude along sections of the ancient coastline, categorised as ‘on’ and ‘off’ the AC125 based on depth, across a range of habitats and seafloor complexity (~60–180 m depth). While some surveyed sections of the AC125 had hard bottom substrate and supported enhanced fish diversity, including over half of the total species observed, species richness and abundance overall were not greater on the AC125 than immediately adjacent to the AC125. Instead, depth, seafloor complexity and habitat type explained patterns in richness and abundance, and structured fish assemblages at both local and broad spatial scales. Fewer fishes were associated with deep sites characterized by negligible complexity and soft-bottom habitats, in contrast to shallower depths that featured benthic biota and pockets of complex substrate. Drivers of abundance of common species were species-specific and primarily related to sampling Areas, depth and substrate. Fishes of the ancient coastline and adjacent habitats are representative of mesophotic fish communities of the region, included species important to fisheries and conservation, and several species were observed deeper than their currently known distribution. This study provides the first assessment of fish biodiversity associated with an ancient coastline feature, improving our understanding of the function it plays in regional spatial patterns in abundance of mesophotic fishes. Management decisions that incorporate the broader variety of depths and habitats surrounding the designated AC125 could enhance the ecological role of this KEF, contributing to effective conservation of fish biodiversity on Australia’s north west shelf.
Australia - Western Australia
Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV)