Size, spatial, and bathymetrical distribution of the ascidian Halocynthia papillosa in Mediterranean coastal bottoms: benthic–pelagic coupling implications
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- Coppari, M., Gori, A. & Rossi, S. Mar Biol (2014) 161: 2079. doi:10.1007/s00227-014-2488-5
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Benthic suspension feeders are abundant in Mediterranean coastal environments, though most of them are threatened due to overexploitation, climate change impacts, and unregulated diving or fishing practices. Little is known about most of the coastal communities in terms of large-scale distribution and realistic benthic–pelagic coupling implications, which are keys to understand and manage those threatened ecosystems. The active suspension feeder Halocynthia papillosa (one of the most common ascidian species of the Mediterranean Sea) was selected as a model organism to help to understand the ecological role in benthic–pelagic coupling processes and its importance as a carbon sink (an essential ecosystem service). The spatial and bathymetrical distribution of this organism has been studied using remotely operated vehicle video transects. The species was distributed throughout the study area, with a maximum density of 4 specimens m−2. The highest abundances and the biggest sizes were observed on the range of 20–50 m depth. The role as carbon and nitrogen sink of this suspension feeder has been quantified coupling distribution data with existing in situ studies of feeding and respiration. Along the 1.24 ha of the study area, H. papillosa yearly ingested 519.4 g C and 31.4 g N and retained 20.2 g C. As long as the physiological data are known, this new methodology could be very useful in assessing bentho–pelagic links and the capacity of being C and N sinks of a wide range of species. This new approach may be essential for the future management of benthic communities.