Regional patterns in demersal fish assemblages among subsea pipelines and natural habitats across north-west Australia

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Regional patterns of fish diversity, abundance, distribution, and assemblage composition are driven by a combination of biotic and abiotic conditions in the marine environment, but these conditions can be altered through anthropogenic activities, such as those associated with oil and gas extraction. The present study utilises data on fish relative abundance and diversity obtained from 1546 baited remote underwater video deployments conducted between 2004 – 2019 in depths of 9 – 170 m across 2000 km of coastline in north-west Australia on natural habitats and subsea pipelines to understand the influence of oil and gas infrastructure on fish assemblages. A total of 450 fish taxa from 56 families was observed, with populations dominated by generalist and invertebrate carnivore taxa. At the regional scale, subsea pipelines had lower diversity (lower taxonomic richness) than natural environments, but possessed a higher abundance of piscivorous and herbivorous fish taxa. Clear patterns in fish assemblage composition were observed in multivariate analyses, reflecting the proximity of oceanic shoals and banks, depth, and to a lesser extent, oil and gas infrastructure. Shallow-water and close to shoals assemblages were characterised by a diversity of site-attached (e.g., wrasses, tuskfish), reef-associated taxa (e.g., emperors). Mesophotic fish assemblages were characterised by commercially important (e.g., goldband snapper), wide-ranging (e.g., sharks) and sand-affiliated (e.g., toadfish, threadfin bream) taxa. Proximity to pipelines and platforms ranked low as predictors in the multivariate analyses suggesting a negligible regional influence of these structures on fish communities in comparison to depth and shoal habitats. Local-scale influences of subsea infrastructure, however, may be important for some fish species (infrastructure vs. immediate surrounds). Our study highlights the influence of abiotic factors on regional-scale patterns in fish assemblage structure across north-west Australia.
Original languageEnglish
Article number979987
Number of pages20
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2022


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