Coral reefs are increasingly threatened by thermal bleaching and tropical storm events associated with rising sea surface temperatures. Deeper habitats offer some protection from these impacts and may safeguard reef-coral biodiversity, but their faunas are largely undescribed for the Indo-Pacific. Here, we show high species richness of scleractinian corals in mesophotic habitats (30–125 m) for the northern Great Barrier Reef region that greatly exceeds previous records for mesophotic habitats globally. Overall, 45% of shallow-reef species (less than or equal to 30 m), 78% of genera, and all families extended below 30 m depth, with 13% of species, 41% of genera, and 78% of families extending below 45 m. Maximum depth of occurrence showed a weak relationship to phylogeny, but a strong correlation with maximum latitudinal extent. Species recorded in the mesophotic had a significantly greater than expected probability of also occurring in shaded microhabitats and at higher latitudes, consistent with light as a common limiting factor. The findings suggest an important role for deeper habitats, particularly depths 30–45 m, in preserving evolutionary lineages of Indo-Pacific corals. Deeper reef areas are clearly more diverse than previously acknowledged and therefore deserve full consideration in our efforts to protect the world's coral reef biodiversity.
Scleractinia (Hard Corals)
Australia - Coral Sea