Size and spatial structure in deep versus shallow populations of the Mediterranean gorgonian Eunicella singularis (Cap de Creus, northwestern Mediterranean Sea)
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- Gori, A., Rossi, S., Linares, C. et al. Mar Biol (2011) 158: 1721. doi:10.1007/s00227-011-1686-7
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In the Western Mediterranean Sea, the gorgonian Eunicella singularis (Esper, 1794) is found at high densities on sublittoral bottoms at depths from 10 to 70 m. Shallow colonies have symbiotic zooxanthellae that deeper colonies lack. While knowledge of the ecology of the shallow populations has increased during the last decades, there is almost no information on the ecology of the deep sublittoral populations. In October and November 2004 at Cap de Creus (42°19′12″ N; 03°19′34″ E), an analysis of video transects made by a remotely operated vehicle showed that shallow populations (10–25 m depth) were dominated by small, non-reproductive colonies, while deep sublittoral populations (50–67 m depth) were dominated by medium-sized colonies. Average and maximum colony heights were greater in the deeper populations, with these deeper populations also forming larger patch sizes and more extensive regions of continuous substrate coverage. These results suggest that shallow habitats are suitable for E. singularis, as shown by the high recruitment rate, but perturbations may limit or delay the development of these populations into a mature stage. This contrasts with the deep sublittoral habitats where higher environmental stability may allow the development of mature populations dominated by larger, sexually mature colonies.