Diel and seasonal variation in heterobranch sea slug assemblages within an embayment in temperate eastern Australia
Larkin, MR, Smith, SDA, Willan, RC & Davis, TR 2017, 'Diel and seasonal variation in heterobranch sea slug assemblages within an embayment in temperate eastern Australia', Marine Biodiversity.
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Biodiversity surveys of marine species are largely conducted during the day, and often over relatively short timeframes, due to practical, operational, and budgetary constraints. As a consequence, surveys can underestimate biodiversity for some groups, such as heterobranch (formerly opisthobranch) molluscs, where abundances vary seasonally by orders of magnitude and different species are active at different times of the day. Here, we quantitatively assess day/night (diel) and seasonal variation in heterobranch sea slug assemblages using monthly, diel scuba surveys for 13 months at three sites in Port Stephens, New South Wales (NSW). All heterobranch sea slugs encountered in 50 × 5-m belt transects were recorded using identical survey methods both during the day and at night. Significant differences were detected between day and night assemblages, with species richness and abundance being consistently higher at night. Significant cyclical patterns were also detected in sea slug assemblages over the duration of the study, for both day and night assemblages, with species assemblages changing throughout the study period. The results demonstrate that marine diversity studies conducted only during the day, and those which do not account for all seasons, are likely to underestimate diversity and abundance of molluscs, particularly heterobranch sea slugs. It is, therefore, important that studies which aim to provide a comprehensive catalogue of molluscan biodiversity include not only day-time surveys, but also those conducted at night. They should also include temporal replication in order to capture ephemeral species.