Habitat and benthic fauna of the Wallaby-Cuvier escarpment, SE Indian ocean

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Abstract

The Wallaby-Cuvier Escarpment is a 700 km long, NW-SE trending linear geological feature that marks the southern boundary of the Cuvier Plateau. The Plateau rises from the adjacent 5500 m deep abyssal plain to a topographical high of 3000 m, approximately 450 km off the coast of Western Australian. In 2021, a 50 km long segment of the escarpment, covering an area of 1700 km2, was mapped by a high-resolution full-ocean depth multibeam echosounder. The habitat of the study area was explored during two video surveys undertaken using the crewed submersible Limiting Factor. Using Benthic Terrain Modeler (BTM), we classified the seabed into five geomorphological classes; flat plains, depressions, broad slopes, steep slopes, and crest. Video footage was used to classify habitat types and to record benthic megafauna occurrences which revealed highly heterogeneous and rapidly changing habitats. Six habitats were proposed based on the nature of geomorphology, slope, and substrate textures. A total of 202 organisms comprising 52 morphotaxa were scored during 198 min of survey that included at least eight phyla and 29 families. Despite a high number of morphotaxa, the total abundance of organisms is considered low which we attribute to oligotrophic surface waters. However, the distribution of organisms and their feeding strategies were well-aligned with habitat type. This study documents faunal distribution and habitat diversity of a rarely explored type of deep-sea geomorphological feature, and in a largely unexplored area and depth of the Indian Ocean.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105299
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
Volume210
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023

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