, Volume 147, Issue 3, pp 775-788

Morphology and growth of the deep-water gorgonians Primnoa resedaeformis and Paragorgia arborea

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Abstract

The morphology of the gorgonian corals Paragorgia arborea and Primnoa resedaeformis was studied from video records and colonies collected from different locations in Atlantic Canada, at depths between 200 and 600 m. Growth was studied by relating colony height to age (number of growth rings) in P. resedaeformis, and from a photographic time-series of a P. arborea colony in a Norwegian fjord. The highest P. resedaeformis and P. arborea colonies were 86 and 180 cm, respectively. The height of P. arborea seemed to be restricted by the size of the boulder it was attached to. When the coral exceeds a critical height (approximately twice the stone size), the drag of strong currents can turn the coral and its substrate over. No limiting factors for the height of P. resedaeformis colonies were identified. P. arborea occurred in three colour varieties: red, salmon red, and white. The red and white contributed 41% to the population each, while 18% of the colonies were salmon red. On average the salmon red P. arborea were taller than the red and white. P. arborea colonies >50 cm were mainly concave fan shaped. The orientation of these indicated a near-bottom current pattern similar to what is known from previous current measurements in the area. P. resedaeformis occurred mainly on the up-current side of boulders, but its bushy morphology does not indicate influence by unidirectional current to the same degree as P. arborea. The different height, morphology, and position on boulders of the two species indicate that they utilize different food sources. P. resedaeformis seems to be adapted to a near-bottom environment with turbulent currents, whereas P. arborea utilize uni- or bidirectional currents higher above bottom by developing planar colonies perpendicular to the current. The oldest P. resedaeformis colony was 61 years. The relationship between height and age indicated an average growth of 1.7 cm year−1 for P. resedaeformis. X-ray images of skeletal sections of P. arborea showed clear growth bands with a maximum band width of 1.3 cm. It is not clear what time scales these bands represent, and they could therefore not be used for indicating age. The limited previously reported data on age and growth of P. arborea indicate an average growth rate of 1 cm year−1. This gives an age of about 180 years for the largest colony in this study. The time-series photographs, however, indicated a much higher growth rate (varying between 2 and 6 cm year−1 within the colony), which may be more representative for colonies of an intermediate size.

Communicated by R.J. Thompson, St. John’s