Alternate Title

Fish Assemblages and Benthic Biota Associated with Natural Hard-Bottom Areas in the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico


We report new observations of fish and benthic invertebrate assemblages at shallow-water (<35 m depth), hard-bottom sites in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. The biota of these previously unstudied areas and of three high-relief features in deeper water was observed during May 1980 using a combination of diver reconnaissance, videotape surveys, still-camera photography, and collection of invertebrates for identification. The six hard-bottom sites in shallow water typically comprised, small, often patchy, rock outcrops, and the associated sessile invertebrates included hydroids, bryozoans, sponges, octocorals, and ahermatypic stony corals. Sea urchins and arrow crabs were the most common motile epifauna. Fish assemblages were typified by red snapper, Atlantic spadefish, blue runner gray triggerfish, sheepshead, and tomtate. Three deeper stations had many of the same fish and invertebrate species, but also possessed a more tropical assemblage including fire corals, antipatharians, spiny lobsters, and a variety of tropical fish species. Hermatypic corals characteristic of some large, offshore banks were not abundant at any of the sites.

Differences in the composition of fish assemblages between nearshore and deeper stations parallel those previously observed at petroleum platforms in the area. Shallow-water stations presumably experience a greater seasonal temperature range and lower absolute temperatures in winter and may be exposed to stresses such a lowered salinity and depleted oxygen levels due to their relative proximity to Mississippi River discharge. The fauna of these shallow hard-bottom sites has predominantly warm-temperate rather than tropical affinities.