Mesophotic ecosystems, found at the limit of light penetration in the ocean, are rich in biodiversity and harbour unique ecological communities. However, they remain among the least studied habitat zones on earth due to the high costs and technological limitations. Here, we characterize mesophotic communities in two marine reserves across a range of habitat types, depths and temperatures using submersible technologies, with the goal of understanding the processes that structure these communities across biogeographical regions.
The Bay of La Paz and the Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico.
Fish and algal species.
We used a small and inexpensive remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to conduct roving‐swim surveys of major habitat types in depths from 12 to 94 m. With the resulting binary data on the presence of fish species, we used generalized linear mixed models and canonical correspondence analysis to determine whether biogenic habitat, depth and/or temperature best explained species richness and community structure across reef and non‐reef substrate.
We identified 72 species or genera, including new depth records for nine fish species and a new geographical record for one fish species. Our surveys included large undocumented rhodolith beds (free‐living coralline algae) and mesophotic algal communities, in addition to diverse communities of soft corals and sponges. Fish species richness was positively associated with rocky substrate and warmer water, and reef fish communities differed significantly by depth, temperature and biogenic habitat.
Our results highlight the importance of biogenic habitat in structuring communities across gradients of depth and temperature. We also demonstrate the effectiveness of a small and economical ROV for conducting mesophotic surveys in remote regions. Our methods and results provide a framework that can be used to greatly increase the biogeographical and taxonomic scope of mesophotic research, especially for readily identifiable taxa such as fish.