Sammarco et al. 2016

scientific article | Gulf Mex Sci | open access Open access

Patterns of mesophotic benthic community structure on banks at vs. inside the continental shelf edge, Gulf of Mexico

Sammarco P, Nuttall M, Beltz D, Hickerson E, Schmahl G

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Information on the biodiversity and geographic patterns of mesophotic, sessile, epibenthic communities on banks around and at the edge of the continental shelf, northern Gulf of Mexico, has been limited. These communities vary in their environments and are prone to disturbance from Outer Continental Shelf oil- and gas-related activities and fishing (trawling and long-lining). We surveyed these communities on the flanks of 13 banks to determine species richness, species composition, similarities between benthic communities, and geographic patterns in community structure. We sampled to # 181 m in depth via a remotely operated vehicle using a vertically mounted digital camera bearing two lasers for scale and a flash (generally 10 drop-sites/bank, 5 transects/drop-site, and #11 photos/transect). Data analysis via PATN revealed three main Bank Groups: the on-shelf group containing 29 Fathom and Sonnier Banks; an anomalous bank—Geyer Bank; and the shelf edge group—Horseshoe, 28 Fathom, Bright, Alderdice, Bouma, Rankin, Rezak, Elvers, McGrail, and Sidner Banks. Most species-rich banks (Bank Group 3) occurred at the shelf edge. Two of the species-poor banks (Bank Group 1) occurred further north, inside the shelf. Geyer Bank (Bank Group 2) occurred at the shelf edge but was anomalously species-poor. Box-and-whisker analyses identified four Species Groups driving the Bank Groupings. Species Group 4 (the Elatopathes abientina/Nicella sp. group) was the largest (also containing Peysonellia sp.), primarily defining Bank Group 3. Species Groups 2 (the Antipathes sp./Gorgonian G04 group) and 3 (low species abundances) were also associated with Bank Group 3. Species Group 4 (the Elatopathes abientina/Nicella sp. group) was a major contributor to Bank Group 2 (Geyer Bank). Species Group 2 (the Antipathes sp./Gorgonian G04 group) was the primary constituent of the on-shelf Bank Group 1, also characterized by low species richness. Most species had a comparative abundance of #20%. The high species richness and affinities exhibited by Bank Group 3 are likely due to continual exposure to warm, low-turbidity Caribbean water at the shelf edge. Banks inside the shelf likely vary from the others as a result of exposure to cooler winter temperatures and higher turbidity due to wind-forced inshore currents. The reasons for the unique community structure on Geyer Bank are as yet unknown. Shelf-edge banks tend to be more species rich than on-shelf banks.

Goms 33 01 77
Meta-data (pending validation)
Depth range
53- 181 m

Mesophotic “mentions”
9 x (total of 7277 words)

Community structure

Overall benthic (groups)

USA - Gulf of Mexico

Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV)

Author profiles