Table_2_Oceanographic Drivers of Deep-Sea Coral Species Distribution and Community Assembly on Seamounts, Islands, Atolls, and Reefs Within the Phoenix Islands Protected Area.xlsx
The Phoenix Islands Protected Area, in the central Pacific waters of the Republic of Kiribati, is a model for large marine protected area (MPA) development and maintenance, but baseline records of the protected biodiversity in its largest environment, the deep sea (>200 m), have not yet been determined. In general, the equatorial central Pacific lacks biogeographic perspective on deep-sea benthic communities compared to more well-studied regions of the North and South Pacific Ocean. In 2017, explorations by the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer and R/V Falkor were among the first to document the diversity and distribution of deep-water benthic megafauna on numerous seamounts, islands, shallow coral reef banks, and atolls in the region. Here, we present baseline deep-sea coral species distribution and community assembly patterns within the Scleractinia, Octocorallia, Antipatharia, and Zoantharia with respect to different seafloor features and abiotic environmental variables across bathyal depths (200–2500 m). Remotely operated vehicle (ROV) transects were performed on 17 features throughout the Phoenix Islands and Tokelau Ridge Seamounts resulting in the observation of 12,828 deep-water corals and 167 identifiable morphospecies. Anthozoan assemblages were largely octocoral-dominated consisting of 78% of all observations with seamounts having a greater number of observed morphospecies compared to other feature types. Overlying water masses were observed to have significant effects on community assembly across bathyal depths. Revised species inventories further suggest that the protected area it is an area of biogeographic overlap for Pacific deep-water corals, containing species observed across bathyal provinces in the North Pacific, Southwest Pacific, and Western Pacific. These results underscore significant geographic and environmental complexity associated with deep-sea coral communities that remain in under-characterized in the equatorial central Pacific, but also highlight the additional efforts that need to be brought forth to effectively establish baseline ecological metrics in data deficient bathyal provinces.
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