Marine reserves are becoming progressively more important as anthropogenic impacts continue to increase, but we have little baseline information for most marine environments. In this study, we focus on the Oceanic Shoals Commonwealth Marine Reserve (CMR) in northern Australia, particularly the carbonate banks and terraces of the Sahul Shelf and Van Diemen Rise which have been designated a Key Ecological Feature (KEF). We use a species-level inventory compiled from three marine surveys to the CMR to address several questions relevant to marine management: 1) Are carbonate banks and other raised geomorphic features associated with biodiversity hotspots? 2) Can environmental (depth, substrate hardness, slope) or biogeographic (east vs west) variables help explain local and regional differences in community structure? 3) Do sponge communities differ among individual raised geomorphic features? Approximately 750 sponge specimens were collected in the Oceanic Shoals CMR and assigned to 348 species, of which only 18% included taxonomically described species. Between eastern and western areas of the CMR, there was no difference between sponge species richness or assemblages on raised geomorphic features. Among individual raised geomorphic features, sponge assemblages were significantly different, but species richness was not. Species richness showed no linear relationships with measured environmental factors, but sponge assemblages were weakly associated with several environmental variables including mean depth and mean backscatter (east and west) and mean slope (east only). These patterns of sponge diversity are applied to support the future management and monitoring of this region, particularly noting the importance of spatial scale in biodiversity assessments and associated management strategies.
Australia - Northern Australia