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Title: Incident light on mesophotic corals is constrained by reef topography and colony morphology
Mesophotic coral reefs, generally defined as deep reefs between 30 and 150 m, are found worldwide and are largely structured by changes in the underwater light field. Additionally, it is increasingly understood that reef-to-reef variability in topography, combined with quantitative and qualitative changes in the underwater light field with increasing depth, significantly influence the observed changes in coral distribution and abundance. Here, we take a modeling approach to examine the effects of the inherent optical properties of the water column on the irradiance that corals are exposed to along a shallow to mesophotic depth gradient. In particular, the roles of reef topography including horizontal, sloping and vertical substrates are quantified, as well as the differences between mounding, plating and branching colony morphologies. Downwelling irradiance and reef topography interact such that for a water mass of similar optical properties, the irradiance reaching the benthos varies significantly with topography (i.e. substrate angle). Coral morphology, however, is also a factor; model results show that isolated hemispherical colonies consistently ‘see’ greater incident irradiances across depths, and throughout the day, compared to plating and branching morphologies. These modeled geometric-based differences in the incident irradiances on different coral morphologies are not, however, consistent with actual depth-dependent distributions of these coral morphotypes, where plating morphologies dominate as you go deeper. Other factors, such as the cost of calcification, arguably contribute to these differences, but irradiance-driven patterns are a strong proximate cause for the observed differences in mesophotic communities on sloping versus vertical reef substrates.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1632333
NSF-PAR ID:
10374045
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Marine Ecology Progress Series
Volume:
670
ISSN:
0171-8630
Page Range / eLocation ID:
49 to 60
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract

    While the effects of irradiance on coral productivity are well known, corals along a shallow to mesophotic depth gradient (10–100 m) experience incident irradiances determined by the optical properties of the water column, coral morphology, and reef topography.

    Modeling of productivity (i.e., carbon fixation) using empirical data shows that hemispherical colonies photosynthetically fix significantly greater amounts of carbon across all depths, and throughout the day, compared with plating and branching morphologies. In addition, topography (i.e., substrate angle) further influences the rate of productivity of corals but does not change the hierarchy of coral morphologies relative to productivity.

    The differences in primary productivity for different coral morphologies are not, however, entirely consistent with the known ecological distributions of these coral morphotypes in the mesophotic zone as plating corals often become the dominant morphotype with increasing depth.

    Other colony‐specific features such as skeletal scattering of light, Symbiodiniaceae species, package effect, or tissue thickness contribute to the variability in the ecological distributions of morphotypes over the depth gradient and are captured in the metric known as the minimum quantum requirements.

    Coral morphology is a strong proximate cause for the observed differences in productivity, with secondary effects of reef topography on incident irradiances, and subsequently the community structure of mesophotic corals.

     
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  2. Mesophotic coral reefs, currently defined as deep reefs between 30 and 150 m, are linked physically and biologically to their shallow water counterparts, have the potential to be refuges for shallow coral reef taxa such as coral and sponges, and might be a source of larvae that could contribute to the resiliency of shallow water reefs. Mesophotic coral reefs are found worldwide, but most are undescribed and understudied. Here, we review our current knowledge of mesophotic coral reefs and their functional ecology as it relates to their geomorphology, changes in the abiotic environment along depth gradients, trophic ecology, their reproduction, and their connectivity to shallow depths. Understanding the ecology of mesophotic coral reefs, and the connectivity between them and their shallow water counterparts, is now a primary focus for many reef studies as the worldwide degradation of shallow coral reefs, and the ecosystem services they provide, continues unabated. 
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  5. Abstract Aim

    Mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) are unique communities that support a high proportion of depth‐endemic species distinct from shallow‐water coral reefs. However, there is currently little consensus on the boundaries between shallow and mesophotic coral reefs and between upper versus lower MCEs because studies of these communities are often site specific. Here, we examine the ecological evidence for community breaks, defined here as species loss, in fish and benthic taxa between shallow reefs and MCEs globally.

    Location

    Global MCEs.

    Time period

    1973–2017.

    Major taxa studied

    Macrophytes, Porifera, Scleractinia, Hydrozoa, Octocorallia, Antipatharia and teleost fishes.

    Methods

    We used random‐effects models and breakpoint analyses on presence/absence data to identify regions of higher than expected species loss along a depth gradient of 1–69 m, based on a meta‐analysis of 26 studies spanning diverse photoautotrophic and heterotrophic taxa. We then investigated the extent to which points of high faunal turnover can be explained by environmental factors, including light, temperature and nutrient availability.

    Results

    We found evidence for a community break, indicated by a significant loss of shallow‐water taxa, at ~ 60 m across several taxonomically and functionally diverse benthic groups and geographical regions. The breakpoint in benthic composition is best explained by decreasing light, which is correlated with the optical depths between 10 and 1% of surface irradiance. A concurrent shift in the availability of nutrients, both dissolved and particulate organic matter, and a shift from photoautotroph to heterotroph‐dominated assemblages also occurs at ~ 60 m depth.

    Main conclusions

    We found evidence for global community breaks across multiple benthic taxa at ~ 60 m depth, indicative of distinct community transitions between shallow and mesophotic coral ecosystems. Changes in the underwater light environment and the availability of trophic resources along the depth gradient are the most parsimonious explanations for the observed patterns.

     
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