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posted on 03.02.2021, 05:07 by Ariadna Mecho, Boris Dewitte, Javier Sellanes, Simon van Gennip, Erin E. Easton, Joao B. Gusmao

Mesophotic ecosystems (50–400 m depth) of the southeastern Pacific have rarely been studied because of the logistical challenges in sampling across this remote zone. This study assessed how oxygen concentrations and other environmental predictors explain variation in echinoderm assemblages at these mesophotic systems, where this group is among the predominant fauna. We compiled data on echinoderm taxa at 91 sampling stations, from historical and recent surveys (between 1950 and 2019), covering a longitudinal gradient of approximately 3,700 km along with the Nazca, Salas y Gómez, and Juan Fernández ridges. Uni- and multivariate model-based tools were applied to analyze the patterns of benthic fauna in relation to environmental factors. Our results indicate a significant positive relationship between echinoderm species richness and depth, oxygen, and salinity. Changes in echinoderm community composition were significantly explained by oxygen, longitude, and chlorophyll-a. We observed notable species turnovers at ∼101 and ∼86°W, where assemblages tend to be more variable across stations. This turnover possibly reflects the effects of physical barriers to dispersion (e.g., currents) and habitat changes. Echinoderm assemblages observed around Easter and Desventuradas Islands presented a high occurrence of potentially endemic taxa and distinct species assemblages. This study is the first to assess the structure of mesophotic echinoderm assemblages of the southeastern Pacific Ocean along a large spatial scale. The information reported here could help design appropriate management tools for the vast, recently created, marine protected areas in the southeastern Pacific.

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