Fine-scale structural complexity created by reef-building coral in shallow-water environments is influential on biodiversity, species assemblage and functional trait expression. Cold-water coral reefs are also hotspots of biodiversity, often attributed to the hard surface and structural complexity provided by the coral. However, that complexity has seldom been quantified on a centimetric scale in cold-water coral reefs, unlike their shallow-water counterparts, and has therefore never been linked in a similar way to the reef inhabitant community. Structure from motion techniques which create high-resolution 3D models of habitats from sequences of photographs is being increasingly utilised, in tandem with 3D spatial analysis to create useful 3D metrics, such as rugosity. Here, we demonstrate the use of ROV video transect data for 3D reconstructions of cold-water coral reefs at depths of nearly 1000 m in the Explorer Canyon, a tributary of Whittard Canyon, NE Atlantic. We constructed 40 3D models of approximately 25-m-length video transects using Agisoft Photoscan software, resulting in sub-centimetre resolution reconstructions. Digital elevation models were utilised to derive rugosity metrics, and orthomosaics were used for coral coverage assessment. We found rugosity values comparable to shallow-water tropical coral reef rugosity. Reef and nearby non-reef communities differed in assemblage composition, which was driven by depth and rugosity. Species richness, epifauna abundance and fish abundance increased with structural complexity, being attributed to an increase in niches, food, shelter and alteration of physical water movement. Biodiversity plateaued at higher rugosity, illustrating the establishment of a specific reef community supported by more than 30% coral cover. The proportion of dead coral to live coral had limited influence on the community structure; instead, within-reef patterns were explained by depth and rugosity, though our results were confounded to a certain extent by multi-collinearity. Fine-scale structural complexity appeared to be integral to local-scale ecological patterns in cold-water coral reef communities.
- School of Environmental Sciences - Associate Professor
- Centre for Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences - Member
- Collaborative Centre for Sustainable Use of the Seas - Member
Person: Research Group Member, Academic, Teaching & Research