Royal Society Publishing

Shallow marine benthic invertebrates of the Seychelles Plateau: high diversity in a tropical oligotrophic environment

Andrew S. Y. Mackie, P. Graham Oliver, Teresa Darbyshire, Kate Mortimer

Abstract

Soft sedimentary biotopes are extensive in the shallow Western Indian Ocean, especially on the Seychelles Plateau and Mascarene Ridge, yet pro rata compared with coral reefs the research effort devoted to them has been minimal. In this study we examine the benthic mollusc and polychaete worm assemblages of the shallow waters (11–62 m) around Mahé, in the Seychelles, and make direct comparisons with the temperate Irish Sea area and subtropical waters of Hong Kong, China (using identical methodology). Two assemblages were recognized, characterized by depth and sediment type. Of these, assemblage A (in shallow carbonate sands) was the most diverse, with diversity and richness measures exceeding those from the Irish Sea or Hong Kong. Hong Kong generally had the poorest fauna. Considering the Bivalvia alone, estimates of taxonomic distinctness showed this to be least for Seychelles assemblage A. The degree of conformity of the results to the concept of the latitudinal gradient in species richness and the possible underlying causes are discussed. Comparisons with other data suggest that the Seychelles support a benthic fauna at least as diverse as any other described from the tropics. A tentative examination of total bivalve species richness suggests a total of 400–500 for the Seychelles. This is in keeping with other Indian Ocean localities, but higher than known figures for continental east Africa. The findings of this paper support the case for widespread ecological and taxonomic studies of the Western Indian Ocean benthic invertebrates.