Coral Reefs

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 763–778 | Cite as

AUV-based classification of benthic communities of the Ningaloo shelf and mesophotic areas

  • Joseph A. TurnerEmail author
  • Russell C. Babcock
  • Renae Hovey
  • Gary A. Kendrick


Despite a growing understanding of the importance of mesophotic ecosystems, they remain relatively unexplored globally, and particularly in the Indian Ocean. The composition of benthic communities of the Ningaloo Marine Park in deeper water (> 20 m) was determined using autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). Environmental variables collected by the AUVs as well as geomorphological variables derived from high-resolution multibeam bathymetry were used to explain the distribution of these communities. Imagery was classified for benthic biota, and non-hierarchical k-means clustering was used to identify community groups. Overall, 12 community groups were identified which fell into three broad categories: (1) coral-dominated, (2) CCA-dominated; and (3) macroalgae- and filter-feeder-dominated. Specific deeper water communities (> 50 m) were characterised by the presence of sponges or other non-photosynthetic filter feeders. Corals were confined to depths < 40 m, and cover was high (29–40%). Generalised additive models identified the importance of substrate (cover of sand, rock, and gravel/pebbles), geomorphological variables (slope and bathymetric position index) and temperature in the distribution of communities.


Benthic communities Continental shelf Coral Invertebrates Mesophotic Ningaloo 



We thank our funding agency BHP Billiton-CSIRO Ningaloo Outlook Marine Research Partnership for support of this work. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of BHP Billiton or CSIRO. Thanks go to the crew of the CSIRO vessel RV Linnaeus and Karl Forcey in particular for Starbug × AUV operations. We are also grateful to the IMOS AUV facility ( and the Squidle portal ( for making additional data available and Claire Rafael for analysing these images. On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

338_2018_1700_MOESM1_ESM.doc (36 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 36 kb)
338_2018_1700_MOESM2_ESM.tif (54 kb)
Figure Hierarchical visualisation of groups (data averaged by group) and significant SIMPROF groups (red). Contribution of each species/group to the cluster identified by shading. Circles = coral-dominated, triangles = CCA-/sponge-dominated, squares = filter feeder/macroalgae-dominated (TIFF 53 kb)
338_2018_1700_MOESM3_ESM.xlsx (92 kb)
Detailed results of SIMPER analysis, including within-group similarity and between-group dissimilarity and contributing species (XLSX 92 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph A. Turner
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Russell C. Babcock
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Renae Hovey
    • 1
  • Gary A. Kendrick
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biological Sciences and Oceans InstituteUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  2. 2.CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Indian Ocean Marine Research CentreUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  3. 3.CSIRO Oceans and AtmosphereBrisbaneAustralia

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