Marine Biology

, 163:39 | Cite as

Depth-related distribution patterns of subtidal macrobenthos in a well-established marine protected area

  • E. R. HeynsEmail author
  • A. T. F. Bernard
  • N. B. Richoux
  • A. Götz
Original paper


Effective marine resource management requires knowledge of the distribution of critical habitats that support resource populations and the processes that maintain them. Reefs that host diverse macrobenthic communities are important habitats for fish. However, detailed information on macrobenthic communities is rarely available and is usually limited to SCUBA diving depths. To establish depth-related distribution patterns and drivers that structure reef communities, the macrobenthos situated in a warm-temperate marine protected area (MPA; 34°01′24S; 23°54′09E) was sampled between 2009 and 2012. Comparison of shallow (11–25 m) and deep (45–75 m) sites revealed significantly different communities, sharing only 27.9 % of species. LINKTREE analysis revealed a changeover of species along the depth gradient, resulting in four significantly different assemblage clusters, each associated with particular environmental variables. High light intensity supported benthic algae at shallow depths, and as light availability decreased with depth, algal cover diminished and was eventually absent from the deep reef. Upright growth forms and settled particulate matter were positively related to depth and dominated the deep reef. Reduced wave action and currents on the deep reef can explain the increased settling of suspended particles. Under such conditions, clogging of feeding parts of the encrusting species is expected, and upright growth would be favoured. Considering that most MPAs are restricted to shallow coastal habitats and that macrobenthic communities change significantly with depth, it is probable that many unique deep reef habitats are currently afforded no protection.


Sponge Suspension Feeder Depth Gradient Macrobenthic Community Reef Site 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Funding for this project was provided by the National Research Foundation of South Africa, the Elwandle Node of the South African Environmental Observation Network, the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme and the British Ecological Society. We thank SANParks, in particular Kyle Smith  and CapeNature for their assistance in the field, Toufiek Samaai, Kerry Sink, Shirley Parker-Nance, Lara Atkinson and Wayne Florence for assistance in identification of invertebrates and Angus Paterson and Clinton Veale for their constructive comments.

Supplementary material

227_2016_2816_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (414 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 414 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. R. Heyns
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • A. T. F. Bernard
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • N. B. Richoux
    • 1
  • A. Götz
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Zoology and EntomologyRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  2. 2.South African Institute for Aquatic BiodiversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  3. 3.South African Environmental Observation NetworkElwandle NodeGrahamstownSouth Africa
  4. 4.Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries ScienceRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  5. 5.Zoology DepartmentNelson Mandela Metropolitan UniversityPort ElizabethSouth Africa

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