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An association between a cusk eel (Bassozetus sp.) and a black coral (Schizopathes sp.) in the deep western Indian Ocean


Detailed observations in the deep sea can reveal previously unknown behaviour, species interactions and fine-scale habitat heterogeneity. Here, the first in situ images of the black coral Schizopathes sp. (Anthozoa: Antipatharia) in the deep western Indian Ocean have been obtained from remotely operated vehicle video footage and time-lapse photography. In these images, there appears to be an association with the cusk eel Bassozetus (Family: Ophidiidae). In the primary observation, chance encounters revealed the fish interacted with the anitpatharian on multiple occasions over several days. Subsequent time-lapse camera footage showed the fish remained almost exclusively underneath the antipatharian for the duration of a 30-h deployment. Excursions from the cover of the antipatharian were for less than 2 min. The primary observation is supported by two similar encounters in the same region. Observed reduction in the tail-beat frequency of the fish under the antipatharian suggests reduced energy requirements for the ophidiid in this position. The observations demonstrate the role that even individual coral colonies play as a source of three-dimensional structure, providing habitat heterogeneity in the deep sea.

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ARG was funded by NERC though the SERPENT Project for this work. We thank L. Werre, J. Moirana, C. Wood, S. Murray and D. Hudson (BG Group) for funding the SERPENT study in the area. Thanks to the crew of the Deepsea Metro I for assistance at sea, especially Oceaneering International ROV supervisors (F. Lynch, R. Makowichuk). We thank Dennis Opresko for comments on the antipatharian identification. Thanks to Barbara Hecker for access to an additional image of an ophidiid in association with a coral. Thanks to the editor Ricardo Serrão Santos and two anonymous reviewers whose comments improved this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Andrew R. Gates.

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Communicated by R. Serrao Santos

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Gates, A.R., Morris, K.J., Jones, D.O.B. et al. An association between a cusk eel (Bassozetus sp.) and a black coral (Schizopathes sp.) in the deep western Indian Ocean. Mar Biodiv 47, 971–977 (2017).

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  • Antipatharia
  • SERPENT Project
  • Energy conservation
  • Ophidiidae
  • Tail-beat frequency
  • Time-lapse photography