Recent investigations of demersal fish communities in deepwater (>50 m) habitats have considerably increased our knowledge of the factors that influence the assemblage structure of fishes across mesophotic to deep-sea depths. While different habitat types influence deepwater fish distribution, whether different types of rugged seafloor features provide functionally equivalent habitat for fishes is poorly understood. In the northeastern Caribbean, different types of rugged features (e.g., seamounts, banks, canyons) punctuate insular margins, and thus create a remarkable setting in which to compare demersal fish communities across various features. Concurrently, several water masses are vertically layered in the water column, creating strong stratification layers corresponding to specific abiotic conditions. In this study, we examined differences among fish assemblages across different features (e.g., seamount, canyon, bank/ridge) and water masses at depths ranging from 98 to 4060 m in the northeastern Caribbean. We conducted 26 remotely operated vehicle dives across 18 sites, identifying 156 species of which 42% of had not been previously recorded from particular depths or localities in the region. While rarefaction curves indicated fewer species at seamounts than at other features in the NE Caribbean, assemblage structure was similar among the different types of features. Thus, similar to seamount studies in other regions, seamounts in the Anegada Passage do not harbor distinct communities from other types of rugged features. Species assemblages, however, differed among depths, with zonation generally corresponding to water mass boundaries in the region. High species turnover occurred at depths <1200 m, and may be driven by changes in water mass characteristics including temperature (4.8-24.4 ºC) and dissolved oxygen (2.2-9.5 mg per l). Our study suggests the importance of water masses in influencing community structure of benthic fauna, while considerably adding to the knowledge of mesophotic and deep-sea fish biogeography.
Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV)