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Fish distributions along depth gradients of a sea mountain range conform to the mid‐domain effect

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Species richness often peaks in the middle of bounded geographic domains (e.g. latitude, altitude or depth). Hump‐shaped richness distributions may be due to deterministic processes, such as adaptations to environmental variation. Alternatively, such distributions might also be due to stochastic process. The mid‐domain effect (MDE) posits that hump‐shaped richness distributions arise when species ranges are randomly arranged within the limits of the domain. We tested whether the MDE could account for the richness of bottom‐associated (demersal) fishes between 200 and 800 m on the Chatham Rise, New Zealand. We quantified the depth distributions of 59 fish species from 1891 research trawl catches made between 1991 and 2007. Results showed a broad plateau of high species richness near the centre of the domain (between 300 and 700 m), which was consistent with expectations of the MDE. Further, empirical species richness was better explained statistically by predictions of the MDE than models incorporating additional abiotic predictor variables. Our results deviated from previous studies that identified a greater richness of fishes in warmer, shallower depths with higher primary production. However, our study was conducted entirely below the euphotic zone, at depths where gradients are relatively weak, suggesting that support for the mid‐domain effect may increase across oceanic domains characterised by weak environmental gradients.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Biological Sciences, Victoria Univ. of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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