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Mesophotic coral ecosystems are threatened and ecologically distinct from shallow water reefs

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Science  20 Jul 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6399, pp. 281-284
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq1614

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  • The challenges of the deep should not preclude robust ecological analysis.
    • T. Edward Roberts, PhD Candidate, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811, Australia
    • Other Contributors:
      • Tom C. L. Bridge, Senior curator of corals, Biodiversity and Geosciences Program, Museum of Tropical Queensland, Queensland Museum Network, Townsville, QLD, 4810, Australia
      • M. Julian Caley, Associate Investigator, School of Mathematical Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
      • Sonia Rowley, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI, USA
      • Frederic Sinniger, Postdoctoral Researcher, Tropical Biosphere Research Center, University of the Ryukyus, 3422 Sesoko, Motobu, Okinawa 905-0227, Japan
      • Saki Harii, Associate Professor, Tropical Biosphere Research Center, University of the Ryukyus, 3422 Sesoko, Motobu, Okinawa 905-0227, Japan
      • Michael Lesser, Research Professor, School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA
      • Marc Slattery, Professor, Department of BioMolecular Sciences, University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS, USA
      • Andrew H. Baird, Professor, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811, Australia

    Rocha et al (1) present novel data demonstrating that mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) are not beyond the reach of disturbances typical of coral reefs, such as cyclones, and therefore deserve dedicated conservation measures. The authors also conclude that significant species turnover across depths precludes MCEs from providing refuge for shallower reef biodiversity. They rightly criticize the use of species depth ranges obtained from online databases arguing that such data are biased because, being derived from multiple sites and sources, they produce extended depth ranges and therefore produce low estimates of turnover and dissimilarity. Unfortunately, Rocha et al’s data are also biased. In particular, the sampling design used to test for turnover of reef fish among depths is unbalanced with 68% of the sampling effort in the upper 20% of the depth range (0-30m). Similarly, the listed sources of the coral data acknowledge uneven sampling effort (2, 3), and it is not clear how their own empirical data were compiled. Unbalanced sampling effort will inflate turnover among the assemblages at different depths simply because more species will be observed in well-sampled habitats (4). In addition, there are numerous spelling mistakes in the ESM data, resulting in at least five false fish species pairs. This will also erroneously inflate turnover. Therefore, it is unsurprising that their analyses identify deeper regions of the reefs as distinct. Even accepting their result, it d...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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