Coral Reefs

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 71–81 | Cite as

Higher species richness of octocorals in the upper mesophotic zone in Eilat (Gulf of Aqaba) compared to shallower reef zones

  • Erez Shoham
  • Yehuda Benayahu


Mesophotic coral-reef ecosystems (MCEs), which comprise the light-dependent communities of corals and other organisms found at depths between 30 and ~ 150 m, have received very little study to date. However, current technological advances, such as remotely operated vehicles and closed-circuit rebreather diving, now enable their thorough investigation. Following the reef-building stony corals, octocorals are the second most common benthic component on many shallow reefs and a major component on deep reefs, the Red Sea included. This study is the first to examine octocoral community features on upper MCEs based on species-level identification and to compare them with the shallower reef zones. The study was carried out at Eilat (Gulf of Aqaba, northern Red Sea), comparing octocoral communities at two mesophotic reefs (30–45 m) and two shallow reef zones (reef flat and upper fore-reef) by belt transects. A total of 30 octocoral species were identified, with higher species richness on the upper MCEs compared to the shallower reefs. Although the MCEs were found to host a higher number of species than the shallower reefs, both featured a similar diversity. Each reef zone revealed a unique octocoral species composition and distinct community structure, with only 16% of the species shared by both the MCEs and the shallower reefs. This study has revealed an almost exclusive dominance of zooxanthellate species at the studied upper MCE reefs, thus indicating an adequate light regime for photosynthesis there. The findings should encourage similar studies on other reefs, aimed at understanding the spatiotemporal features and ecological role of octocorals in reef ecosystems down to the deepest limit of the MCEs.


Octocorallia Soft corals Deep reef Mesophotic coral-reef ecosystem (MCE) Biodiversity Red Sea 



We are indebted to the constructive comments of S.E. Kahng, Y. Belmaker, and the anonymous reviewers, which have greatly improved the manuscript. We thank the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat (IUI) for assistance and use of facilities. We acknowledge M. Weis, E. Gilad, and other diving buddies for help in the field work, A. Shlagman for curatorial skills, and N. Paz for editorial assistance. This research was in part supported by the Israel Cohen Chair in Environmental Zoology to YB. Collection of animals complied with a permit issued by the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 80 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology, Faculty of Life SciencesTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael

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