Report | December 17, 2018
Ecological characterisation of a Mediterranean cold-water coral reef: Cabliers Coral Mound Province (Alboran Sea, western Mediterranean)
Scleractinian cold-water coral (CWC) reefs are key habitats for benthic fauna as they enhance spatial heterogeneity and biodiversity. Understanding their environmental and ecological dynamics has therefore important implications for biodiversity conservation. This is especially true for the Mediterranean Sea, where living cold-water coral reefs are rare. In this study, we present a quantitative analysis of the CWC assemblages from Cabliers Mound Province, located in the Alboran Sea (westernmost Mediterranean). The province extends for 25 km, with some mounds rising up to 140 m from the surrounding seafloor and being partly topped by living CWC reefs. The observed megabenthic species were quantified through video analysis of three Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) dives (280–485 m water depth) and their distribution was related to mound geomorphic characteristics and seafloor terrain parameters, extracted from a high-resolution Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) multi-beam bathymetry. The pronounced abundance and size of scleractinian CWCs among the observed assemblages, makes Cabliers the only known coral mound province in the Mediterranean Sea with currently growing reefs. Within these reefs, several recruits and juveniles of the sebastid Helicolenus dactylopterus were observed, confirming the use of such habitats as nursery grounds by some commercially valuable fish species. The qualitative comparison between the fauna of Cabliers and Atlantic coral mounds suggest that the number of species associated with CWC mounds worldwide is even higher than previously thought. This finding has important implications for the conservation and management of CWC habitats in different geographic regions.
(Via Science Direct)