Submerged reef ecosystems can be very diverse and may serve as important refugia for shallow-water conspecifics. This study quantified the benthic and fish communities of two proximate, predominantly mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs), Glomar Shoal and Rankin Bank, which are geographically isolated from other similar features in the region. Glomar Shoal is identified as a key ecological feature (KEF) in the North West Marine Region of Australia. Multibeam surveys were performed to characterise the seafloor and to derive secondary environmental variables, used to explain patterns in benthic and fish communities. Towed video surveys quantified benthic cover, and stereo baited remote underwater stations were used to survey fish abundance and diversity. Surveys were completed in depths of ~ 20–115 m. The two MCEs exhibited distinct communities; Rankin Bank consistently had higher cover (up to 30×) of benthic taxa across depths, and fish communities that were twice as abundant and 1.5× more diverse than Glomar Shoal. The location of the MCEs, depth and rugosity were most influential in structuring benthic communities. Phototrophic taxa, specifically macroalgae and hard corals, had up to 22 × higher cover at Rankin Bank than at Glomar Shoal and were dominant to 80 m (compared to 60 m at Glomar Shoal), presumably due to greater light penetration (lower turbidity) and lower sand cover at greater depths. The 20% coral cover at Rankin Bank was comparable to that reported for shallow reefs. The cover of sand, hard corals and sponges influenced fish communities, with higher abundance and diversity of fish associated with shallow hard coral habitats. This study demonstrated that the two MCEs were unique within the local context, and when coupled with their geographical isolation and biodiversity, presents compelling support for the additional recognition of Rankin Bank as a KEF.
Australia - Western Australia