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Patterns of benthic mega-invertebrate habitat associations in the Pacific Northwest continental shelf waters: a reassessment

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As human impacts and demands for ocean space increase (fisheries, aquaculture, marine reserves, renewable energy), identification of marine habitats hosting sensitive biological assemblages has become a priority. Epifaunal invertebrates, especially the structure-forming species, are an increasing conservation concern as many traditional (bottom-contact fishing) and novel (marine renewable energy) ocean uses have the potential to displace or otherwise impact these slow-growing organisms. The differences in mega-invertebrate species assemblages between high-relief rocks and low-relief sediments are well documented and likely hold for most marine environments. In anticipation of potential development of marine renewable energy faculties off Oregon and Washington (USA), a survey of the benthic invertebrate assemblages and habitats was conducted on three rocky reefs on the continental shelf of the Pacific Northwest, using video footage collected by remotely operated vehicle, to more finely characterize these assemblage–habitat associations. Benthic assemblages appeared to first group by depth (50–80 vs. 100–120 m), then by relief (consolidated rocks vs. unconsolidated rocks and soft sediments). Consolidated rocks were characterized at each site by a combination of various sponges, gorgonians, sea anemones and echinoderms; unconsolidated rocks were characterized at Grays Bank by sea anemones and burrowing brittle stars, and at Bandon-Arago by sponges and echinoderms; soft sediments were characterized at Grays Bank and Siltcoos Reef by sea whips and burrowing brittle stars, as well as pink shrimps and sea stars at Siltcoos Reef, and at Bandon-Arago by sponges, gorgonians and echinoderms. The results of this study will help classify and map the seafloor in a way that represents benthic habitats reflective of biological species assemblage distributions, rather than solely geological features, and support conservation and management planning.

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Correspondence to Lenaïg G. Hemery.

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Communicated by Angus Jackson.

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Hemery, L.G., Henkel, S.K. Patterns of benthic mega-invertebrate habitat associations in the Pacific Northwest continental shelf waters: a reassessment. Biodivers Conserv 25, 1761–1772 (2016).

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