Characterising epibenthic diversity and physical drivers in unconsolidated marine habitats of Algoa Bay, South Africa

Keywords: benthic imagery, grain size, soft sediment, species assemblage, subtidal habitat


Unconsolidated marine sediment habitats spatially make up the majority of global ocean seabed, yet benthic faunal patterns and their abiotic drivers remain poorly understood. Benthic research in Algoa Bay, on the south coast of South Africa, has largely focused on rocky reefs, while the dominant unconsolidated sediment habitats have been poorly studied. This study describes epibenthic assemblages associated with unconsolidated sediment in Algoa Bay, at between 30 and 100 m depth, and investigates the relationship between biotic patterns and physical drivers. Epibenthic abundance data were quantified from benthic imagery and tested against the long-term means and coefficients of variation of 12 abiotic factors, including depth, mean grain size and bottom temperature. Multivariate analyses revealed two statistically distinct epibenthic communities. This pattern was largely explained by depth, mean grain size, mean bottom temperature and mean current speed (cumulative variation of 52.49%). To a lesser extent, the long-term variability of bottom temperature, current speed and dissolved oxygen also influenced the community (cumulative variation of 34.44%). Visual classification of the substrates indicated that a mixed substrate type (i.e. sand and a low percentage of rock) significantly influences the benthic community. The findings suggest that a combination of depth and substrate type are largely responsible for the epibenthic assemblages observed.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1814-2338
print ISSN: 1814-232X