Marine biologists have progressively increased their consciousness of the importance of meiofauna for the benthic domain in both temperate and tropical regions. After the 1998 bleaching, Maldivian reefs (Indian Ocean) have been regarded as a vulnerable ecosystem that must be carefully monitored. Accordingly, an extensive investigation of meiofaunal distribution in the reef slopes of the Maldivian archipelago has been carried out, taking into account geographical position, type of habitat (inner vs. outer slope), inclination and depth gradient. Twenty-four taxa revealed the highest meiofaunal richness ever found in Maldivian reefs. Interestingly, Thermosbenacea and Syncarida were identified, which are two taxa that have only recently been documented in the marine ecosystem. Chaetognatha were also present, which is a group that was only considered to be planktonic until 2000, when they were also discovered in the benthos. The type of habitat, affected by different hydrodynamic conditions, was the main factor influencing the meiofaunal community's structure and diversity. In detail, the outer reefs were characterized by the highest level of diversity, confirming previous observations on the rate of coral reef growth and vitality and underlining the greater vulnerability of the inner slopes. In contrast, depth only significantly affected the community structure, but not its density or diversity. Accordingly, community structure seems to be more sensitive than abundance and diversity indices when it comes to detecting depth gradients. The 10° inclination of the inner slopes revealed the most different community structure and the greatest dominance of nematodes, leading to the lowest diversity levels.
Marine Environmental Research – Elsevier
Published: Aug 1, 2018
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