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Animal Forests of the World: An Overview

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Marine Animal Forests

Abstract

In the marine benthos, megabenthic communities dominated by sessile suspension feeders (such as sponges, corals, and bivalves) form three-dimensional structures which provide architectural complexity and shelter for several species. These communities are, in part, structurally and functionally similar to the terrestrial forests, with the main difference that they are dominated by animals instead of plants. The term “animal forests” has been introduced to describe these communities, highlighting the structural and functional similarities with their terrestrial counterparts trying to gather, in a single concept, all the three-dimensional alive structures dominated by sessile animals. Among the animal forests, tropical coral reefs, due to their high biodiversity, have been defined as the “rainforests of the sea” and have attracted the interest of scientists all over the world. However, during the last decades, many other animal forests have been subjected to the attention of the scientific community; Cold-water coral communities, with their key role in ecosystem functioning, fisheries sustainability, and potential carbon sinks in deep benthic ecosystems, are an example of other animal forests that probably cover larger extensions than the tropical shallow coral reefs, but for which the distribution and fully understanding of their functionality are still largely unknown. Similarly, recent technological advances have allowed scientists to explore the mesophotic environment, revealing complex and unknown animal forests in the so-called twilight zone. Gradually, we begin to understand the real extension of these three-dimensional benthic communities and their ecological importance. The animal forests are probably one of the most widely distributed ecosystems on the planet, due to the wide spectra of environments they occupy, from the shallow mussel beds to the tropical and the deepest cold-water coral communities or Antarctic sponge grounds. However, during the last 20 years or so, there has been an increasing evidence of important changes in marine ecosystems due to human-induced disturbances, which are dramatically reducing biodiversity, biomass, and the potential recover of the animal forests all over the world. Many aspects related to the occurrence, distribution, life history, population dynamics, trophic ecology, or physiology of the organisms which structure these communities still need to be understood in order to get an insight into their functional ecology and dynamics. The concept of animal forests imply a holistic approach allowing the pooling of different ecosystems under the same umbrella and possibly lead to a better understanding of their ecological role and the application of effective management and conservation measures.

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Acknowledgments

The authors want to thank Georgios Tsounis for his critical review of the chapter. SR wants to thank the support of the Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship (ANIMAL FOREST HEALTH, Grant Agreement Number 327845) and Generalitat de Catalunya to MERS (2014 SGR – 1356). LB was supported, in part, during the preparation of this book by the US National Science Foundation (grant OCE 13-32915). AG wants to thank the support of the Beatriu de Pinos Fellowship (ShelfReCover, Grant Agreement Number 2013 BP-B 00074). This work is contributing to the ICTA “Unit of Excellence” (MinECo, MDM2015-0552). CO thank the support of the CYCLAMEN project (TOTAL foundation, Ref BIO_2014_091_Juin_CS-8) and ATLAS: This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 678760 (ATLAS). This output reflects only the author’s view and the European Union cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

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Correspondence to Sergio Rossi .

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Rossi, S., Bramanti, L., Gori, A., Orejas, C. (2017). Animal Forests of the World: An Overview. In: Rossi, S., Bramanti, L., Gori, A., Orejas , C. (eds) Marine Animal Forests. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-21012-4_1

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