, Volume 67, Issue 3, pp 521-534
Date: 08 Dec 2012

Spatial and depth-associated distribution patterns of shallow gorgonians in the Algarve coast (Portugal, NE Atlantic)

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The ecological role of gorgonians for marine rocky bottoms is worldwide recognized, but the information on the distribution patterns of NE Atlantic temperate species is insufficient, considering current global, regional and local threats. To overcome the lack of information on the spatial distribution patterns of gorgonians in south Portugal, in 2009/2010, the occurrence and abundance of gorgonian species in rocky bottoms were quantified over more than 25 km of coast (37.1°N/8.6°W) down to 30 m depth. Eunicella labiata, Eunicella gazella, Eunicella verrucosa and Leptogorgia sarmentosa were abundant and frequent in the studied area, while Leptogorgia lusitanica was less abundant. All species evidenced a similar depth pattern, that is abundance significantly increased with depth below 15 m. At shallower waters (up to 15 m), the distribution of gorgonians may be constrained by abiotic factors and competition with algae. Indeed, the abundance of gorgonians was negatively correlated with the percentage cover of algae along the depth gradient, but gorgonians and sponges coexist. Competition among gorgonian species also seems to be low in this area because of the similarity in the abundance pattern observed for the most abundant species and also their high association. In NE Atlantic shallow temperate rocky bottoms, the distribution of gorgonians seems to be influenced by environmental factors and biological interactions, namely competition (algae) and coexistence (sponges and other gorgonians).

Communicated by H.-D. Franke.