Benthic assemblage composition on subtidal reefs along a latitudinal gradient in Western Australia
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At regional scales, the distribution of species and the structure of assemblages vary with latitude within many marine and terrestrial systems. The oligotrophic coastal waters of Western Australia (WA) support highly speciose and endemic assemblages, yet spatial patterns in benthic structure are currently poorly known. We examined benthic assemblage composition along a latitudinal gradient of 28.5–33.5°S and a depth gradient of 14–62 m, on subtidal reefs in warm-temperate WA. We surveyed benthos using a remotely triggered digital stills camera. In total, we sampled macroalgae and sessile invertebrates at 201 sites spread across four locations. Percent cover of coarse taxonomic groups and dominant species was estimated from over 2000 photoquadrat samples. We recorded significant differences in benthic assemblage composition between locations, and along depth gradients within each location. However, the magnitude of change with depth was not consistent between locations, and shifts in assemblage composition along the depth gradients were not as pronounced as expected. The percent cover of all dominant benthic groupings differed between locations, and several key taxa, such as the kelp Scytothalia dorycarpa, brown foliose macroalgae, hard corals and sponges, changed predictably along the latitudinal gradient. Our study adopted a coarse taxonomic, but assemblage-wide, approach to describing macrobenthic assemblages, and clear differences between locations and depths were detected. The surveys have provided baseline data on broad scale ecosystem structure against which to detect future ecological change.
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