North Atlantic Canyons
At least 660 submarine canyons are known worldwide, and these ecosystems potentially represent some of the most productive and biodiverse areas in deep waters (De Leo et al. 2012) but few have been extensively investigated and our knowledge of submarine canyon ecosystems remains limited. In 2012 and 2013, recently developed habitat suitability models were used to predict deep-sea coral locations in northeastern United States canyons (NEUSC), to which seafloor surveys with TowCam were used to characterize benthic ecosystems and habitats. Faunal distribution, abundance, and habitat data were obtained from thirty-seven surveys in NEUSC systems, including Tom’s, Hendrickson, Veatch, Gilbert, Ryan, Powell, Munson Canyons, one minor canyon and two intercanyon areas. We also investigated additional canyons including Block, Alvin, Atlantis, Welker, Heezen, two minor canyons and two intercanyon areas through high-definition ROV image surveys from the NOAA CANEX 2013 expedition. Significant differences in species composition and distribution appeared to be driven by depth and habitat type, characterized by 9 classifications: sediment, pebbles, cobble, boulders, vertical canyon walls, margins, solitary rock and coral rubble. High abundances and diversity of scleractinian, antipatharian, bubblegum, gorgonian corals, as well as sponges were highly correlated with habitat type. The ability to locate and define the composition and distribution of vulnerable marine ecosystems, as well as to validate predictive ecosystem modeling is critical for management and conservation of living resources. Improved accuracy in conducting these ecosystems assessments and modeling will facilitate the design and implementation of management practices.
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