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Benthic habitat and megafaunal zonation across the Hebridean Slope, western Scotland, analysed from archived seabed photographs

  • David J. Hughes (a1)


Benthic habitat and epibenthic megafauna are described from seabed photographs taken in or near three potential deep-water Marine Protected Areas on the Hebridean Slope, surveyed in 1988, 1995–96 and 1998. Broad bathymetric zones are defined by visible substratum characteristics, and by cluster analysis using presence/absence of identified fauna. The shelf edge and upper slope (to 350 m depth) showed current-swept coarse substrata with a very sparse fauna. A transition to finer sandy sediments was apparent at 350–470 m, with a greater abundance of mobile epifauna. The brittlestar Ophiocten gracilis occurred at high density below 600 m depth in all three areas. Southern stations indicated an abrupt lower boundary for this zone at ca 1000 m. In the north, rippled sands with xenophyophores occurred below the O. gracilis zone at 1000–1100 m. Xenophyophores were also seen in smaller numbers at this depth in the south. From ~1300–1600 m a seabed of burrowed fine mud was recorded in both northern and southern areas. Bioturbated sediments on the Rockall Trough floor at ~2060 m supported more visible epifauna, principally the brittlestar Ophiomusium lymani and the octocoral Acanella arbuscula. The bathymetric pattern differs from a scheme proposed in 2010 for the deep north-east Atlantic in the lack of any obvious zonal boundary at 750 m. No cold-water corals or sponge aggregations were observed. Trawl marks were observed in all three areas, particularly in the 1998 northern survey, with highest frequency at 1300–1400 m.


Corresponding author

Correspondence should be addressed to: D.J. Hughes, Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban, Argyll PA37 1QA, UK email:


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Benthic habitat and megafaunal zonation across the Hebridean Slope, western Scotland, analysed from archived seabed photographs

  • David J. Hughes (a1)


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