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Environmental drivers of ophiuroid species richness on seamounts

TD O'Hara, DP Tittensor.


Benthic communities on seamounts are frequently characterised as being species rich, yet there is considerable variation in observed species richness. Although large-scale patterns of species richness have been described from many marine and terrestrial habitats, their environmental drivers often remain poorly understood. We compared species richness of ophiuroids (brittle-stars) on 60 seamounts throughout the South West Pacific Ocean, and used an information-theoretic approach and generalized linear models to determine the relative importance of predictor variables. Due to high correlation among many environmental variables, we used a reduced set of predictors in an a priori model framework. Temperature was the only environmental predictor of any importance in these models over the bathymetric range of the study. Post-hoc analyses of other potential environmental predictor variables showed that depth, calcite saturation state, temperature range, modelled current velocity and latitude all had some predictive value, but were also highly correlated with temperature or other environmental variables included in the a priori model. Longitude, large-area species richness, habitat suitability for stony corals, and modelled POC flux did not have high predictive value. We hypothesise that temperature affects richness by constraining species distributions; in particular fewer species can tolerate the conditions on relatively warm shallow seamount summits.

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