Marine Biology

, Volume 149, Issue 5, pp 1059–1070 | Cite as

Population structure of an exploited benthic cnidarian: the case study of red coral (Corallium rubrum L.)

  • Georgios TsounisEmail author
  • Sergio Rossi
  • Josep-Maria Gili
  • Wolf Arntz
Research Article


Octocorals are an important part of many ecosystems as they add three-dimensional complexity to the benthos and thereby increase biodiversity. The Mediterranean red coral (Corallium rubrum, L. 1758) is a longevous octocoral that is harvested commercially, yet natural and anthropogenic influences on its population size structure are little understood. This study found that some harvested red coral populations had a significantly different size structure when compared to populations at the nearby Marine Protected Area (MPA) of Medas Islands at the Spanish Costa Brava (NW Mediterranean). Eighty-nine percent of the red corals in the harvested Costa Brava area are less than 10 years old and 96% of all colonies have not yet grown more than second-order branches. The size/age distribution of the harvested population is notably skewed towards younger and smaller colonies. Thus, although red coral is still abundant, its population structure is strongly distorted by harvesting. The results confirm that MPAs are useful to distinguish between anthropogenic and natural influences on population structure. However, 14 years of protection appears to be an insufficient recovery time for a longevous octocoral population such as red coral.


Basal Diameter Marine Protect Area Colony Diameter Coral Abundance Costa Brava 
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We are grateful to C. Orejas, T. Brey, G. Santangelo, S. Thatje, and to three anonymous reviewers whose comments greatly improved the manuscript. N. Fernández and L. Bramanti provided invaluable help during SCUBA diving fieldwork. We thank M. Aranguren and L. Vera for their help in the processing of photographic samples. Many thanks to the family Mörker for logistics at Roses and to JM Llenas for support at the Medas Islands. Thanks also to the professional divers harvesting red coral in the Costa Brava for advice. G.T. was supported by a PhD scholarship from the University of Bremen, Germany. This study was funded through European Union Funds by the Department of Fisheries and Agriculture of the Government of Catalonia (Spain), PCC:30103.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Georgios Tsounis
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sergio Rossi
    • 2
  • Josep-Maria Gili
    • 2
  • Wolf Arntz
    • 1
  1. 1.Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine ResearchBremerhavenGermany
  2. 2.Institut de Ciències del Mar (CSIC)BarcelonaSpain

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