Spatial distribution patterns of the soft corals Alcyonium acaule and Alcyonium palmatum in coastal bottoms (Cap de Creus, northwestern Mediterranean Sea)
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- Ambroso, S., Gori, A., Dominguez-Carrió, C. et al. Mar Biol (2013) 160: 3059. doi:10.1007/s00227-013-2295-4
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Current knowledge on the abundance and distribution patterns of different soft coral species is relatively limited when compared to other benthic suspension feeders such as gorgonians and hard coral species. To overcome this scarcity of information, the distribution patterns of the soft corals Alcyonium acaule and Alcyonium palmatum were investigated in northwestern Mediterranean benthic communities over a wide geographical (60 km of coastline) and bathymetrical (0–70 m depth) extent using a remotely operated vehicle. A. acaule was the most abundant species in the study area with highest recorded density of 18 col m−2 found at depths of 35–45 m in areas that are directly exposed to strong near-bottom currents. Conversely, A. palmatum was only found as scattered solitary colonies at greater depths in soft bottoms, with maximum density of 2.4 col m−2. Medium and large colonies of A. acaule were preferentially found on sloping and vertical rocky bottoms where they form dense patches. High-density patches of A. acaule were preferentially found on vertical rocky bottom, while isolated colonies were preferentially observed on coralligenous substrata as well as on flat soft and maërl substrates. A. acaule biomass distribution showed highest values between 40 and 45 m depth, and between 60 and 65 m depth. This suggests that deeper populations are formed by colonies that are bigger than the equivalent shallower ones. Although both species are almost genetically identical, ecologically they are very different. For this reason, conservation plans should consider the differential ecological traits shown by these two soft coral species.