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Translating local benthic community structure to national biogenic reef habitat types


Cresswell, AK and Edgar, GJ and Stuart-Smith, RD and Thompson, RJ and Barrett, NS and Johnson, CR, Translating local benthic community structure to national biogenic reef habitat types, Global Ecology and Biogeography, 26, (10) pp. 1112-1125. ISSN 1466-822X (2017) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

DOI: doi:10.1111/geb.12620



Marine reef habitats are typically defined subjectively. We provide a continental-scale assessment of dominant reef habitats through analysis of macroalgae and sessile animal taxa at sites distributed around Australia. Relationships between reef habitats and environmental and anthropogenic factors are assessed, and potential changes in the future distribution and persistence of habitats are considered.


Shallow rocky and coral reefs around the Australian coast.


Cover of 38 sessile biota functional groups was recorded in diver-based surveys using quadrats at 1,299 sites. Classification analyses based on the functional groups were used to identify an unambiguous set of ‘biogenic habitat types’. Random forest and distance-based linear modelling were used to investigate correlations between these habitats and environmental and anthropogenic variables.


Cluster analyses revealed tropical and temperate ‘realms’ in benthic substratum composition, each with finer-scale habitats: four for the temperate realm (canopy algae, barren, epiphytic algae–understorey and turf) and five for the tropical realm (coral, coral–bacterial mat, turf–coral, calcified algae–coral and foliose algae). Habitats were correlated with different sets of environmental and anthropogenic conditions, with key associations in the temperate realm between mean sea temperature and canopy-forming algae (negative) and barren habitat (positive). Variation in sea temperature was also an important correlate in the tropical realm.

Main conclusions

Quantitative delineation of inshore reef habitats at a continental scale identifies many of the same habitat types traditionally recognized through subjective methods. Importantly, many biogenic reef habitats were closely related to environmental parameters and anthropogenic variables that are predicted to change. Consequently, habitats have differing likelihood of persistence. Structurally complex habitats in the temperate realm are at greater risk than more ‘two-dimensional’ habitats (e.g., canopy-forming versus turfing algae). In the tropical realm, offshore and coastal habitats differed greatly, highlighting the importance of large-scale oceanic conditions in shaping biogenic structure.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Reef Life Survey, marine biodiversity, citizen science, Australia, biogeography, climate change, habitat type, macroecology, marine management
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Assessment and management of terrestrial ecosystems
UTAS Author:Cresswell, AK (Ms Anna Cresswell)
UTAS Author:Edgar, GJ (Professor Graham Edgar)
UTAS Author:Stuart-Smith, RD (Dr Rick Stuart-Smith)
UTAS Author:Barrett, NS (Associate Professor Neville Barrett)
UTAS Author:Johnson, CR (Professor Craig Johnson)
ID Code:121504
Year Published:2017
Web of Science® Times Cited:19
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2017-10-02
Last Modified:2018-05-29

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