Shore-based submersible operations, from 2006 to 2020, have allowed us to examine megabenthic assemblages along the island margin of Isla de Roatán from depths of about 150 to 750 m, including repeated observations of the same organisms. These dives were used to photo-document a diverse benthic assemblage and observe the health and condition of the sessile fauna in a well-explored but relatively undocumented area of the Mesoamerican Reef. Samples were collected by dip net, and some dives profiled the water column chemistry in the year 2011. The deep-sea coral assemblage observed off Roatan exhibits high abundance and diversity. The sessile habitat-forming taxa consist primarily of at least 20 different octocorals (e.g., Plexauridae, Primnoidae, Coralliidae, Isididae, and Ellisellidae) and 20 different sponges each (Demospongiae and Hexactinellida), with several known and unknown taxa of Zoantharia, Antipatharia (Bathypathes spp), and Scleractinia (e.g., Desmophyllum pertusum, Dendrophyllia alternata, Madracis myriaster, and solitary taxa). Crinoidea were also abundant and diverse, represented by at least nine species. Epifaunal assemblages associated with corals include at least 24 macroinvertebrate species dominated by Asteroschema laeve (Ophiuroidea) and Chirostylus spp. (Decapoda: Anomura). Repeated observations of a few large octocoral colonies over many years illustrate patterns of predation, recolonization, and epibiont host fidelity, including a 14-year record of decline in a plexaurid octocoral (putatively Paramuricea sp.) and loss of its resident ophiuroids. The shore-based submersible provides a practical and relatively inexpensive platform from which to study coral and sponge assemblages on a deep tropical island slope. The deep-sea coral gardens are likely to harbor new species and new discoveries if more samples can be acquired and made available for taxonomic research.
AbstractTo understand the spatial species diversity of demersal fish assemblages in Taijiang National Park (TJNP) of Taiwan, fishes from 44 demersal trawl hauls and environmental data were collected in the nearshore and offshore areas of TJNP from April 2016 to May 2019. In total, fishes of 47 families, 84 genera, and 113 species were recorded. The nearshore and offshore demersal fish assemblages in TJNP exhibited significant variability in species composition assessed via beta diversity. Using distance-based redundancy analysis, we demonstrated that bottom depth and substrate type were significant explanatory variables of spatial species diversity and identified three habitat types (I: shallow soft bottom; II: deeper soft bottom; III: deeper bottom with mixed sand and gravel substrates). The nearshore assemblage was characterized by type I, where Tarphops oligolepis (flounder), Trachinocephalus myops (snakefish), and Liachirus melanospilos (carpet sole) dominated in terms of abundance. The offshore assemblage was characterized by either type II or type III because differences in substrate types among sampling sites were noticeable. At the offshore sites characterized by a deeper soft bottom (type II), Johnius distinctus (croaker), Cynoglossus kopsii (shortheaded tonguesole), and Coelorinchus formosanus (Formosa grenadier) predominated. In contrast, the westernmost sampling site, characterized by type III habitat, exhibited relatively high Shannon indices, and Scorpaena miostoma (scorpionfish), Urolophus aurantiacus (sepia stingray), and Parabothus taiwanensis (lefteye flounder) predominated. Our results provide the first baseline information on the environmental characteristics and spatial species diversity of demersal fish assemblages in TJNP and have implications for biodiversity conservation in existing spatial management areas.