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High Meiofaunal and Nematodes Diversity around Mesophotic Coral Oases in the Mediterranean Sea

July 1, 2013

Although the mesophotic zone of the Mediterranean Sea has been poorly investigated, there is an increasing awareness about its ecological importance for its biodiversity, as fish nursery and for the recruitment of shallow water species. Along with coastal rocky cliffs, isolated coralligenous concretions emerging from muddy bottoms are typical structures of the Mediterranean Sea mesophotic zone. Coralligenous concretions at mesophotic depths in the South Tyrrhenian Sea were investigated to assess the role of these coralligenous oases in relation to the biodiversity of surrounding soft sediments. We show here that the complex structures of the coralligenous concretions at ca. 110 m depth influence the trophic conditions, the biodiversity and assemblage composition in the surrounding sediments even at considerable distances. Coral concretions not only represent deep oases of coral biodiversity but they also promote a higher biodiversity of the fauna inhabiting the surrounding soft sediments. Using the biodiversity of nematodes as a proxy of the total benthic biodiversity, a high turnover biodiversity within a 200 m distance from the coralligenous concretions was observed. Such turnover is even more evident when only rare taxa are considered and seems related to specific trophic conditions, which are influenced by the presence of the coralligenous structures. The presence of a high topographic complexity and the trophic enrichment make these habitats highly biodiverse, nowadays endangered by human activities (such as exploitation of commercial species such as Corallium rubrum, or trawling fisheries, which directly causes habitat destruction or indirectly causes modification in the sedimentation and re-suspension rates). We stress that the protection of the coralligenous sea concretions is a priority for future conservation policies at the scale of large marine ecosystems and that a complete census of these mesophotic oases of biodiversity should be a priority for future investigations in the Mediterranean Sea.

Bianchelli S, Pusceddu A, Canese S, Greco S, Danovaro R, 2013, High Meiofaunal and Nematodes Diversity around Mesophotic Coral Oases in the Mediterranean Sea. PLoS ONE 8(6): e66553. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066553. Article.

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