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  • Dense coral-sponge communities on the upper continental slope at 570 - 950 m off George V Land have been identified as a Vulnerable Marine Ecosystem in the Antarctic. The challenge is now to understand their likely distribution. Based on results from the Collaborative East Antarctic Marine Census survey of 2007/2008, we propose some hypotheses to explain their distribution. Icebergs scour to 500 m in this region and the lack of such disturbance is probably a factor allowing growth of rich benthic ecosystems. In addition, the richest communities are found in the heads of canyons. Two possible oceanographic mechanisms may link abundant filter feeder communities and canyon heads. The canyons in which they occur receive descending plumes of Antarctic Bottom Water formed on the George V shelf and these water masses could entrain abundant food for the benthos. Another possibility is that the canyons harbouring rich benthos are those that cut the shelf break. Such canyons are known sites of high productivity in other areas because of a number of oceanographic factors, including strong current flow and increased mixing with shelf waters, and the abrupt, complex topography. These hypotheses provide a framework for the identification of areas where there is a higher likelihood of encountering these Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems.

  • Geoscience Australia has undertaken a classification of biophysical datasets to create seabed habitat maps (termed 'seascapes') for the Australian margin and adjacent sea floor. Seascapes describe a layer of ecologically meaningful biophysical properties that spatially represents potential seabed habitats. Each seascape area corresponds to a region of the seabed that contains similar biophysical properties and, by association, potential habitats and communities. This dataset is a seascape classification for the on-shelf zone of the North-west bioregion. The on-shelf zone is separated from the off-shelf zone due to the availability of the effective disturbance layer for the on-shelf zone only. Also, a higher resolution sea floor temperature layer has been used in the on-shelf analysis.

  • Reliable marine benthic habitat maps at regional and national scales are needed to enable the move towards the sustainable management of marine environmental resources. The most effective means of developing broad-scale benthic habitat maps is to use commonly available marine physical data due to the paucity of adequate biological data and the prohibitive cost of directly sampling benthic biota over large areas. A new robust method of mapping marine benthic habitats at this scale was developed based on a stratified approach to habitat classification. This approach explicitly uses knowledge of marine benthic ecology to determine an appropriate number of stratification levels, to choose the most suitable environmental variables for each level, and to select ecologically significant boundary conditions (i.e. threshold values) for each variable. Three stratification levels, with nine environmental variables, were created using a spatial segmentation approach. Each level represents major environmental processes and characteristics of the Australian marine benthic environment. The finest scale of benthic habitat is represented by seafloor physical properties of topography, sediment grain size and seabed shear stress. Water-column nutrient parameters and bottom water temperature depicted the intermediate scale, while the broadest scale was defined by seabed insolation parameters derived from depth data. The classifications of the three stratified levels were implemented using an object-based fuzzy classification technique that recognises that habitats are largely homogenous spatial regions, and transitions between habitats are often gradual. Classification reliability was indicated in confidence maps. Physical habitat diversity was evaluated for the final benthic habitat map that combines the three classifications. The final benthic habitat map identifies the structurally complex continental shelf break as an area of relatively high habitat diversity. Continental Shelf Research

  • Concern about the impact of ocean acidification on organisms secreting high magnesium calcite skeletons has led to renewed interest in the mineralogy of these organisms. The identification of minerals making up the skeletons of tropical coralline algae, and in particular the determination of the Mg-content of calcite, is most commonly performed with X-ray diffraction. This method, based on XRD peak position, attracted criticism in the past because it produced Mg-contents that were in some cases lower compared to those based on chemical analyses of the bulk sample (in solution). The recent discovery of dolomite and magnesite in living coralline algae skeletons in addition to Mg-calcite explained this issue, and it is our goal in the present study to reinstate XRD as a reliable, quick and affordable method for the study of the mineral make-up of coralline algae species. In this paper we review the history of mineralogical analyses on tropical coralline algae and identify physical preparation methods that can affect results. We build on existing XRD methods to develop simple sampling and analytical methods to identify the presence of dolomite and magnesite, and numerically assess peak asymmetry that is caused by the overlapping reflections of calcite, dolomite and magnesite. These methods do not require specialist crystallographic knowledge or expensive or time consuming processes. The additional information our methods produce can be used to study intra-cellular calcification, and helps to rapidly assess and compare the mineral make-up of large numbers of samples. We conclude that XRD should be an integral part of any mineralogical analysis of coralline algae skeletons, which may be composed of not only Mg-calcite (Ca1.0-0.6Mg0-0.4CO3), but also dolomite (Ca0.5Mg0.5CO3), magnesite (MgCO3) and aragonite (CaCO3).

  • The World Summit on Sustainable Development implementation plan requires, by 2012, a representative system of marine protected areas (RSMPA) for the purposes of long-term conservation of marine biodiversity. A great challenge for meeting this goal, particularly in data-poor regions, is to avoid inadvertant failure while giving science the time and resources to provide better knowledge. A staged process is needed for identifying areas in data-poor regions that would enable the objectives to be achieved in the long term. We elaborate a procedure that would satisfy the first stage of identifying a RSMPA, including areas suitable as climate change refugia and as reference areas for monitoring change without direct interference of human activities. The procedure is based on the principles of systematic conservation planning. The first step involves the identification of ecologically-separated provinces along with the physical heterogeneity of habitats within those provinces. Ecological theory is then used to identify the scale and placement of MPAs, aiming to be the minimum spatial requirements that would satisfy the principles for a representative system: comprehensiveness, adequacy and representativeness (CAR). We apply the procedure to eastern Antarctica, a region with spatially-restricted sampling of most biota. We use widely available satellite and model data to identify a number of large areas that are likely to encompass important areas for inclusion in a RSMPA. Three large areas are identified for their pelagic and benthic values as well as their suitability as climate change refugia and reference areas. Four other areas are identified specifically for their benthic values. These areas would need to be managed to maintain these values but we would expect them to be refined over time as more knowledge becomes available on the specific location and spatial extent of those values.

  • The Carnarvon shelf at Point Cloates, Western Australia, is characterised by a series of prominent ridges and hundreds of mounds that provide hardground habitat for coral and sponge gardens. The largest ridge is 20 m high, extends 15 km alongshore in 60 m water depth and is interpreted as a drowned fringing reef. To landward, smaller ridges up to 1.5 km long and 16 m high are aligned to the north-northeast and are interpreted as relict aeolian dunes. Mounds are less than 5 m high and may also have a sub-aerial origin. In contrast, the surrounding seafloor is sandy with relatively low densities of epibenthic organisms. The dune ridges are estimated to be Late Pleistocene in age and their preservation is attributed to cementation of calcareous sands to form aeolianite, prior to the postglacial marine transgression. On the outer shelf, sponges grow on isolated low profile ridges at ~85 m and 105 m depth and are also interpreted as partially preserved relict shorelines.

  • This study presents new information on the regional geochemical characteristics of deep-sea floor sediments (1300 - 2423 m water depth) on the Lord Howe Rise (deep-sea plateau) and Gifford Guyot (seamount/tablemount), remote areas off eastern Australia. The aim was to provide a coherent synthesis for a suite of geochemical data that can be used to make habitat inferences and to develop surrogates of biodiversity. Sediment characteristics analysed were mineralogy, organic carbon and nitrogen concentrations and isotopic compositions, and concentrations of major and trace elements. We also measured parameters that convey information about the reactivity of organic matter and on the bio-availability of bioactive trace elements (e.g. chlorin indices and acid-extractable elements). Surface sediments from the region were calcareous oozes that were carbon-lean (0.26±0.1%) and had moderate to high chlorin indices (0.62 - 0.97)..

  • This special issue of Continental Shelf Research presents 13 research papers that contain the latest results in the field of benthic marine environment mapping and seabed characterisation. A total of 10 papers in this special issue were presented as papers and posters at GeoHab conferences in 2007 (Noumea, New Caledonia), 2008 (Sitka, Alaska) and 2009 (Trondheim, Norway). The annual GeoHab conference provides a forum in which marine physical and biological scientists, managers, policy makers, and industry representatives can convene to engage in discussions regarding mapping and characterising the seabed. The papers contained in this special issue build on the work published in Greene and Todd (2005): Mapping the Seafloor for Habitat Characterization, a special publication of the Geological Association of Canada.

  • This study tested the performance of 16 species models in predicting the distribution of sponges on the Australian continental shelf using a common set of environmental variables. The models included traditional regression and more recently developed machine learning models. The results demonstrate that the spatial distributions of sponge as a species group can be successfully predicted. A new method of deriving pseudo-absence data (weighted pseudo-absence) was compared with random pseudo-absence data - the new data were able to improve modelling performance for all the models both in terms of statistics (~10%) and in the predicted spatial distributions. Overall, machine learning models achieved the best prediction performance. The direct variable of bottom water temperature and the resource variables that describe bottom water nutrient status were found to be useful surrogates for sponge distribution at the broad regional scale. This study demonstrates that predictive modelling techniques can enhance our understanding of processes that influence spatial patterns of benthic marine biodiversity. Ecological Informatics

  • This introductory chapter provides an overview of the book's contents and definitions of key concepts including benthic habitat, potential habitat and seafloor geomorphology. The chapter concludes with a summary of commonly used habitat mapping technologies. Benthic (seafloor) habitats are physically distinct areas of seabed that are associated with particular species, communities or assemblages that consistently occur together. Benthic habitat maps are spatial representations of physically distinct areas of seabed that are associated with particular groups of plants and animals. Habitat maps can illustrate the nature, distribution and extent of distinct physical environments present and importantly they can predict the distribution of the associated species and communities.