Mapping epibenthic assemblages and their relations to sedimentary features in shallow-water, high-energy environments
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Knowledge of spatial relationships among benthic biota and sedimentary features in shallow-water (<30m) highenergy environments has been severely limited by sampling technology. We describe and report tests of a SCUBA-diving mapping method specifically for this region. Underwater acoustic location is used to achieve meter-scale resolution over kilometer-scale regions of the sea floor. A triad of acoustic transponders is bottom-mounted at known positions, 300- 500 in apart. Transported by underwater personal vehicles, SCUBA-divers map the bed using hand-held acoustic receivers that record ranges to the transponders. The mean error of acoustic fixes was 2.4 +/- 1.2 in in a 0.5 km x 1.0 km test area. Dense assemblages of epibenthic animals were mapped relative to sediment texture and bedforms off the exposed south coast of Martha’s Vineyard Island, Massachusetts, USA. Surveys one month apart within a 0.6 km x 0.6 km area (8-12 in depth) revealed 100-m-scale patches of the tube worm Spiophanes bombyx (less than or equal to30,000 m(-2)) in fine sand and of the sand dollar Echinarachnius partna (less than or equal to 55 m(-2)) in coarse sand. Raised mud patches that, together with fine sand, occurred in two shore-perpendicular belts are likely exposed, ancient marsh deposits. Depth gradients of sand-ripple geometry indicated that ripples in deeper areas were not in equilibrium with wave conditions monitored during surveys; i.e., they were relict ripples. Thus, sand dollars in some areas may have had > I month to rework surficial sands since their transformation by physical processes. Linear regressions of ripple characteristics against sand dollar or tube worm densities were not significant, although such relationships would be highly dependent on temporal scale. The survey method described here can be used at more frequent intervals to explore such interactions between epibenthic animals and sediment-transport dynamics. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.