The lower bathyal and abyssal seafloor fauna of eastern Australia

Background: Our knowledge of the benthic fauna at lower bathyal to abyssal (LBA, > 2000 m) depths off Eastern Australia was very limited with only a few samples having been collected from these habitats over the last 150 years. In May–June 2017, the IN2017_V03 expedition of the RV Investigator sampled LBA benthic communities along the lower slope and abyss of Australia’s eastern margin from off mid-Tasmania (42°S) to the Coral Sea (23°S), with particular emphasis on describing and analysing patterns of biodiversity that occur within a newly declared network of offshore marine parks. Methods: The study design was to deploy a 4m (metal) beam trawl and Brenke sled to collect samples on soft sediment substrata at the target seafloor depths of 2500 and 4000m at every 1.5 degrees of latitude along the western boundary of the Tasman Sea from 42° to 23°S, traversing seven Australian Marine Parks. Results: The biological sampling included 35 beam trawls, 28 Brenke sleds, 8 box cores, 20 surface meso-zooplankton tows, and 7 Deep Towed Camera transects. In total, 25,710 specimens were identified to 1084 taxonomic entities, including 847 species-level, 144 genus-level and 69 family-level and 24 higher-level taxa. Of the species-level taxa, only 457 were assigned species-level taxonomic names, which implies that up to 58% of the collected fauna is undescribed. In addition, the ranges of numerous species have been extended to include the western Tasman Sea. Conclusions: The lower bathyal and abyssal fauna of soft sediment seafloors off eastern Australia has been systematically surveyed for the first time. The resultant collections will provide the foundation for much future ecological, biogeographical, phylogenetic and taxonomic research.

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