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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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