Deep coral growth in the Mediterranean Sea: an overview

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Abstract

The Mediterranean basin represents an excellent biological archive of past and modern deep coral growth whose study may help to understand taxonomic, biogeographic, ecological, and evolutionary patterns of modern deep coral bioconstructions, best embodied by the Lophelia-reefs and mounds of the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, the occurrence of extant deep coral genera in the Mediterranean basin is documented, although not continuously, since the Miocene. Following the Messinian crisis the re-colonisation of the basin by deep coral is likely to have started with the Pliocene but little is known about deep coral biota linked to hard substrates during this epoch. It is certain that Atlantic-type deep-sea corals including the scleractinian triad Lophelia-Madrepora-Desmophyllum have been established in the basin since the latest Pliocene-Early Pleistocene as proven by outcrop evidence in southern Italy, especially Sicily and Calabria, and in Rhodes. Still-submerged dead coral assemblages are widespread in the entire basin between c. 250—2500 m depth; the majority is aged at the last glacial by AMS, C14 and U/Th dating. The present situation (post-glacial) is a general decline of such deep corals in the Mediterranean, and this is especially true for Lophelia which appears to be more severely affected by local extinctions. To date, the only exception to this general rule is represented by the recent discovery of prosperous Lophelia populations in the Eastern Ionian Sea.