Marine Ecology Progress Series
Remotely operated vehicle, ROV, Autonomous underwater vehicle, AUV, Technical diving, Image distortion, Sponges, Coral reefs, Photogrammetry, Sampling
Highly divergent estimates of benthic cover of sponges have been reported for Caribbean mesophotic reefs (90-100 m) based on quadrat point-intercept data collection using 2 methods: visual surveys conducted in situ by technical divers, and analyses of photographs taken by unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). The second method has been criticized for potential errors from image distortion caused by variable camera angle relative to the substratum, but without a broader comparison of both methods. We find that studies that have used the UUV-based method are advantageous for a number of reasons, most importantly: (1) access to the full mesophotic zone, (2) higher sample replication, and (3) reduced likelihood of sampling bias. For tech diving surveys conducted at 91 m, i.e. the deepest depth reported using this method but only mid-way through the mesophotic zone, studies have reported particularly high sponge cover (~80 vs. <10% for UUV-based surveys), which may be a consequence of low replication and targeted sampling influenced by very short working times under hazardous conditions. When evaluating benthic abundance metrics from photographs, issues associated with variable substratum angle are common to any topographically complex surface, particularly within a quadrat. Nevertheless, point-intercept estimates are not dependent on quadrat area and are not subject to error due to image distortion or surface complexity. Unlike visual census data from tech dives, UUV photographs can be validated by taxonomic experts and archived for re-analysis. Past tech diving surveys should be repeated using the UUV-based method with greater replication over the full range of the mesophotic zone in order to reconcile divergent estimates of benthic cover.
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Joseph R. Pawlik, Roy A. Armstrong, Stephanie Farrington, John Reed, Sara Rivero-Calle, Hanumant Singh, Brian Walker, and Jason White. 2022. [Opinion Piece] Comparison of recent survey techniques for estimating benthic cover on Caribbean mesophotic reefs .Marine Ecology Progress Series : 201 -211. https://nsuworks.nova.edu/occ_facarticles/1245.