Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 485–502 | Cite as

Outcropping reef ledges drive patterns of epibenthic assemblage diversity on cross-shelf habitats

  • Jacquomo Monk
  • Neville S. Barrett
  • Nicole A. Hill
  • Vanessa L. Lucieer
  • Scott L. Nichol
  • Paulus Justy W. Siwabessy
  • Stefan B. Williams
Original Paper


Seafloor habitats on continental shelf margins are increasingly being the subject of worldwide conservation efforts to protect them from human activities due to their biological and economic value. Quantitative data on the epibenthic taxa which contributes to the biodiversity value of these continental shelf margins is vital for the effectiveness of these efforts, especially at the spatial resolution required to effectively manage these ecosystems. We quantified the diversity of morphotype classes on an outcropping reef system characteristic of the continental shelf margin in the Flinders Commonwealth Marine Reserve, southeastern Australia. The system is uniquely characterized by long linear outcropping ledge features in sedimentary bedrock that differ markedly from the surrounding low-profile, sand-inundated reefs. We characterize a reef system harboring rich morphotype classes, with a total of 55 morphotype classes identified from the still images captured by an autonomous underwater vehicle. The morphotype class Cnidaria/Bryzoa/Hydroid matrix dominated the assemblages recorded. Both α and β diversity declined sharply with distance from nearest outcropping reef ledge feature. Patterns of the morphotype classes were characterized by (1) morphotype turnover at scales of 5 to 10s m from nearest outcropping reef ledge feature, (2) 30 % of morphotype classes were recorded only once (i.e. singletons), and (3) generally low levels of abundance (proportion cover) of the component morphotype class. This suggests that the assemblages in this region contain a considerable number of locally rare morphotype classes. This study highlights the particular importance of outcropping reef ledge features in this region, as they provide a refuge against sediment scouring and inundation common on the low profile reef that characterizes this region. As outcropping reef features, they represent a small fraction of overall reef habitat yet contain much of the epibenthic faunal diversity. This study has relevance to conservation planning for continental shelf habitats, as protecting a single, or few, areas of reef is unlikely to accurately represent the geomorphic diversity of cross-shelf habitats and the morphotype diversity that is associated with these features. Equally, when designing monitoring programs these spatially-discrete, but biologically rich outcropping reef ledge features should be considered as distinct components in stratified sampling designs.


Bryozoa Cnidaria Continental shelf margin Flinders commonwealth marine reserve Hydroid Marine protected area Porifera Species diversity 



This work has been funded through the National Environmental Research Program (NERP) funded by the Australian Government. The NERP Marine Biodiversity Hub is a collaborative partnership between the University of Tasmania, CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship, Geoscience Australia, Australian Institute of Marine Science and Museum Victoria. Justin Hulls (UTas) provided significant technical support for field surveys and interrogation of AUV imagery. We would like to thank Oscar Pizarro, Ariell Friedman, Andrew Durrant and staff at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) University of Sydney for access to and running the AUV Sirius. AUV data was sourced from the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) - IMOS is a national collaborative research infrastructure, supported by Australian Government. Ian Atkinson and Olivia Wilson (Geoscience Australia) are acknowledged for their assistance in the acquisition and processing of the multibeam sonar data. Emma Lawrence (CSIRO) is thanked for undertaking the AUV sampling design. Thanks also to Nic Bax, two anonymous reviewers and the Editor for their constructive comments on an early version of the paper. SN and JS publish with permission of the CEO, Geoscience Australia.

Supplementary material

10531_2016_1058_MOESM1_ESM.docx (654 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 654 kb)
10531_2016_1058_MOESM2_ESM.docx (41 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 41 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Marine and Antarctic StudiesUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  2. 2.Geoscience AustraliaCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.The Australian Centre for Field RoboticsThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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