Physiological performance of the cold-water coral Dendrophyllia cornigera reveals its preference for temperate environments
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- Gori, A., Reynaud, S., Orejas, C. et al. Coral Reefs (2014) 33: 665. doi:10.1007/s00338-014-1167-9
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Cold-water corals (CWCs) are key ecosystem engineers in deep-sea benthic communities around the world. Their distribution patterns are related to several abiotic and biotic factors, of which seawater temperature is arguably one of the most important due to its role in coral physiological processes. The CWC Dendrophyllia cornigera has the particular ability to thrive in several locations in which temperatures range from 11 to 17 °C, but to be apparently absent from most CWC reefs at temperatures constantly below 11 °C. This study thus aimed to assess the thermal tolerance of this CWC species, collected in the Mediterranean Sea at 12 °C, and grown at the three relevant temperatures of 8, 12, and 16 °C. This species displayed thermal tolerance to the large range of seawater temperatures investigated, but growth, calcification, respiration, and total organic carbon (TOC) fluxes severely decreased at 8 °C compared to the in situ temperature of 12 °C. Conversely, no significant differences in calcification, respiration, and TOC fluxes were observed between corals maintained at 12 and 16 °C, suggesting that the fitness of this CWC is higher in temperate rather than cold environments. The capacity to maintain physiological functions between 12 and 16 °C allows D. cornigera to be the most abundant CWC species in deep-sea ecosystems where temperatures are too warm for other CWC species (e.g., Canary Islands). This study also shows that not all CWC species occurring in the Mediterranean Sea (at deep-water temperatures of 12–14 °C) are currently living at their upper thermal tolerance limit.