Coral Reefs

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 143–153 | Cite as

Topography, substratum and benthic macrofaunal relationships on a tropical mesophotic shelf margin, central Great Barrier Reef, Australia

  • T. C. L. Bridge
  • T. J. Done
  • R. J. Beaman
  • A. Friedman
  • S. B. Williams
  • O. Pizarro
  • J. M. Webster


Habitats and ecological communities occurring in the mesophotic region of the central Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Australia, were investigated using autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) from 51 to 145 m. High-resolution multibeam bathymetry of the outer-shelf at Hydrographers Passage in the central GBR revealed submerged linear reefs with tops at 50, 55, 80, 90, 100 and 130 m separated by flat, sandy inter-reefal areas punctuated by limestone pinnacles. Cluster analysis of AUV images yielded five distinct site groups based on their benthic macrofauna, with rugosity and the presence of limestone reef identified as the most significant abiotic factors explaining the distribution of macrofaunal communities. Reef-associated macrofaunal communities occurred in three distinct depth zones: (1) a shallow (<60 m) community dominated by photosynthetic taxa, notably scleractinian corals, zooxanthellate octocorals and photosynthetic sponges; (2) a transitional community (60–75 m) comprising both zooxanthellate taxa and azooxanthellate taxa (notably gorgonians and antipatharians); and (3) an entirely azooxanthellate community (>75 m). The effects of depth and microhabitat topography on irradiance most likely play a critical role in controlling vertical zonation on reef substrates. The lower depth limits of zooxanthellate corals are significantly shallower than that observed in many other mesophotic coral ecosystems. This may be a result of resuspension of sediments from the sand sheets by strong currents and/or a consequence of cold water upwelling.


Mesophotic Community structure Vertical zonation AUV Great Barrier Reef 



We acknowledge the captain and crew of the RV Southern Surveyor for their outstanding work on the cruise. The project was funded by the Australian Marine National Facility, the Integrated Ocean Observing System, the National Geographic Society, the Natural Environment Research Council, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Science for Management Awards and the School of Earth and Environmental Science, James Cook University. Robin Beaman acknowledges a Queensland Smart Futures Fellowship for salary support. We would like to thank Katharina Fabricius and Chris Battershill at the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Carden Wallace, Paul Muir and Patricia Sutcliffe at the Queensland Museum for assistance with the taxonomy. We also gratefully acknowledge Adella Edwards for her help with preparing the figures, and Ari Stypel, Alex Brazenor, Scott Hansen and Michael Kramer for their valuable assistance.


  1. Bak RPM, Engel MS (1979) Distribution, abundance and survival of juvenile hermatypic corals (Scleractinia) and the importance of life history strategies in the parent coral community. Mar Biol 54:341–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bare AY, Grimshaw KL, Rooney JJ, Sabater MG, Fenner D, Carroll B (2010) Mesophotic communities of the insular shelf at Tutuila, American Samoa. Coral Reefs 29:369–377CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beaman RJ, Webster JM, Wust RAJ (2008) New evidence for drowned shelf edge reefs in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Mar Geol 247:17–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Birkeland C, Rowley D, Randall RH (1982) Coral recruitment patterns at Guam. Proc 4th Int Coral Reef Symp 1:339–344Google Scholar
  5. Brakel WH (1979) Small-scale spatial variation in light available to coral reef benthos: quantum irradiance measurements from a Jamaican reef. Bull Mar Sci 29:406–413Google Scholar
  6. Church JA (1987) East Australian current adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. Aust J Mar Freshw Res 38:671–683CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clarke KR, Gorley RN (2006) PRIMER v6: user manual/tutorial. PRIMER-E, PlymouthGoogle Scholar
  8. Clarke KR, Warwick RM (2001) Changes in marine communities: an approach to statistical analysis and interpretation. PRIMER-E, PlymouthGoogle Scholar
  9. Colin PL (1986) Benthic community distribution in the Enewetak Atoll lagoon, Marshall Islands. Bull Mar Sci 38:129–143Google Scholar
  10. Colin PL, Devaney DM, Hillis-Colinvaux L, Suchanek TH, Harrison JT III (1986) Geology and biological zonation of the reef slope, 50–360 m depth at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands. Bull Mar Sci 38:111–128Google Scholar
  11. Done TJ (1982) Patterns in the distribution of coral communities across the central Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 1:95–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fabricius KE, Alderslade P (2001) Soft corals and sea fans: a comprehensive guide to the tropical shallow-water genera of the central-west Pacific, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  13. Fabricius KE, Benayahu Y, Genin A (1995a) Herbivory in asymbiotic soft corals. Science 268:90–92PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fabricius KE, Genin A, Benayahu Y (1995b) Flow-dependent herbivory and growth in zooxanthellae-free soft corals. Limnol Oceanogr 40:1290–1301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fricke HW, Knauer B (1986) Diversity and spatial pattern of coral communities in the Red Sea upper twilight zone. Oecologia 71:29–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fricke HW, Meischner D (1985) Depth limits of Bermudan scleractinian corals: a submersible survey. Mar Biol 88:175–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fricke HW, Vareschi E, Schlichter D (1987) Photoecology of the coral Leptoseris fragilis in the Red Sea twilight zone (an experimental study by submersible). Oecologia 73:371–381CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Friedman A, Pizarro O, Williams SB (2010) Rugosity, slope and aspect from bathymetric stereo image reconstructions. Proceedings of the IEEE oceans 2010 conference, Sydney, Australia, pp 9Google Scholar
  19. Grigg RW (2006) Depth limit for reef building corals in the Au’au Channel, S.E. Hawaii. Coral Reefs 25:77–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Grigg RW, Grossman EE, Earle SA, Gittings SR, Lott D, McDonough J (2002) Drowned reefs and antecedent karst topography, Au’au Channel, S.E. Hawaiian Islands. Coral Reefs 21:73–82Google Scholar
  21. Harris PT, Davies PJ (1989) Submerged reefs and terraces on the shelf edge of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia: morphology, occurrence and implications for reef evolution. Coral Reefs 8:87–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hopley D (2006) Coral Reef growth on the shelf margin of the Great Barrier Reef with special reference to the Pompey Complex. J Coast Res 22:150–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hopley D, Graham TL, Rasmussen CE (1997) Submerged shelf-edge reefs, coral reefs, Great Barrier Reef Australia, PACON 96. Recent Advances in Marine Science and Technology, Honolulu, HI, pp 305–315Google Scholar
  24. Hopley D, Smithers SG, Parnell KE (2007) The geomorphology of the Great Barrier Reef: development, diversity and change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United KingdomCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Johnson-Roberson M, Pizarro O, Williams SB (2010) Generation and visualization of large scale 3D reconstructions from underwater robotics surveys. Journal of Field Robotics 27:21–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kahng SE, Kelley CD (2007) Vertical zonation of megabenthic taxa on a deep photosynthetic reef (50–140 m) in the Au’au Channel, Hawaii. Coral Reefs 26:679–687CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kahng SE, Garcia-Sais JR, Spalding HL, Brokovich E, Wagner D, Weil E, Hinderstein L, Toonen RJ (2010) Community ecology of mesophotic coral reef ecosystems. Coral Reefs 29:255–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kirk TJO (1994) Light and photosynthesis in aquatic ecosystems. Cambridge University Press, New York, United StatesCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kleypas JA (1996) Coral reef development under naturally turbid conditions: fringing reefs near Broad Sound, Australia. Coral Reefs 15:153–167Google Scholar
  30. Lesser MP, Slattery M, Leichter JJ (2009) Ecology of mesophotic coral reefs. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 375:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Liddell WD, Avery WE, Ohlhorst SL (1997) Patterns of benthic community structure, 10–250 m, the Bahamas. Proc 8th Int Coral Reef Symp 1:437–442Google Scholar
  32. Macintyre IG, Rutzler K, Norris JN, Smith KP, Cairns SD, Bucher KE, Steneck RS (1991) An early Holocene reef in the western Atlantic: submersible investigations of a deep relict reef off the west coast of Barbados, W.I. Coral Reefs 10:167–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Maragos JE, Jokiel PL (1986) Reef corals of Johnston Atoll: one of the world’s most isolated reefs. Coral Reefs 4:141–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ohlhorst SL, Liddell WD (1988) The effects of substrate microtopography on reef community structure at 60–120 m. Proc 8th Int Coral Reef Symp 3:355–360Google Scholar
  35. Pyle RL, Earle JL, Greene BD (2008) Five new species of the damselfish genus Chromis (Perciformes: Labroidei: Pomacentridae) from deep coral reefs in the tropical western Pacific. Zootaxa 1671:3–31Google Scholar
  36. Scoffin TP, Tudhope AW (1985) Sedimentary environments of the central region of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Coral Reefs 4:81–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Thresher RE, Colin PL (1986) Trophic structure, diversity and abundance of fishes of the deep reef (30–300 m) at Enewetak, Marshall Islands. Bull Mar Sci 38:253–272Google Scholar
  38. Van Woesik R, Done TJ (1997) Coral communities and reef growth in the southern Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 16:103–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Veron JEN (2000) Corals of the world. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, Queensland, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  40. Webster JM, Davies PJ, Beaman RJ, Williams SB, Byrne M (2008) Evolution of drowned shelf-edge reefs in the GBR; implications for understanding abrupt climate change, coral reef response and modern deep water benthic habitats—RV Southern Surveyor, voyage summary, Mar. Natl. Facil., Hobart, Tasmania, p 18 (available at
  41. Williams SB, Pizarro O, Webster JM, Beaman RJ, Mahon I, Johnson-Roberson M, Bridge TCL (2008) Autonomous underwater vehicle-assisted surveying of drowned reefs on the shelf edge of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Journal of Field Robotics 27:675–697CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wolanksi E, Colin P, Naithani J, Deleersnijder E, Golbuu Y (2004) Large amplitude, leaky, island-generated, internal waves around Palau, Micronesia. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 60:705–716CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. C. L. Bridge
    • 1
  • T. J. Done
    • 2
  • R. J. Beaman
    • 3
  • A. Friedman
    • 4
  • S. B. Williams
    • 4
  • O. Pizarro
    • 4
  • J. M. Webster
    • 5
  1. 1.School of Earth and Environmental SciencesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Australian Institute of Marine ScienceTownsville MCAustralia
  3. 3.James Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia
  4. 4.Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR)University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  5. 5.School of GeosciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations