The deepwater demersal ichthyofauna of the western Coral Sea

The highly diverse deepwater demersal ichthyofauna of the western Coral Sea was first systematically surveyed in two exploratory voyages in 1985 and 1986, and these fish assemblages have not been investigated at the same level since. Only recently have catch data and specimens, obtained from these first voyages almost 3 decades ago, been rigorously investigated and analysed. Some 393 species of fishes from 125 families were collected during the 1985 voyage which surveyed the northeastern Australian continental margin, and the Saumarez and Queensland Plateaus. A checklist of the species caught is provided. Levels of endemicity of deepwater fishes in the western Coral Sea are very high with about 50% of well-studied groups, such as sharks and rays, confined to this relatively small geographic region. A very high proportion of species caught during this voyage were either undescribed (78 species or 20%) or new Australian records (96 species or 24%) at the time of the survey. Another 68 species (17%) are the subject of further taxonomic investigation or are currently undergoing formal description. The fauna exhibits some intraregional differences in structure. Biogeographically informative fishes such as skates appear to be cryptically partitioned within the region, differing in composition to other Australian regions and those of French territories to the east. Strong depth-related partitioning of the fauna is also evident, and its structure follows zonation patterns observed across the wider Australian region. Given the high level of micro-endemicity and regional uniqueness of the fauna, there is a compelling argument for the existence of a faunal gyre in the Coral Sea. New gap-filling surveys are needed to better define the structure of this fauna and determine its distribution.

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