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PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e28755. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0028755. Epub 2011 Dec 14.

A picture on the wall: innovative mapping reveals cold-water coral refuge in submarine canyon.

Author information

  • 1Marine Geoscience, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, United Kingdom. vaih@noc.ac.uk

Abstract

Cold-water corals are azooxanthellate species found throughout the ocean at water depths down to 5000 m. They occur in patches, reefs or large mound structures up to 380 m high, and as ecosystem engineers create important habitats for a diverse fauna. However, the majority of these habitats are now within reach of deep-sea bottom trawling. Many have been severely damaged or are under threat, despite recent protection initiatives. Here we present a cold-water coral habitat type that so far has been overlooked--quite literally--and that has received minimal impact from human activities. Vertical and overhanging cliffs in deep-sea canyons, revealed using an innovative approach to marine habitat mapping, are shown to provide the perfect substratum for extensive cold-water coral-based communities. Typical canyon-related processes, including locally enhanced internal tides and focussed downslope organic carbon transport, provide favourable environmental conditions (current regime, food input) to sustain the communities, even outside the optimal depth and density envelopes reported elsewhere in the NE Atlantic. Our findings show that deep-sea canyons can form natural refuges for faunal communities sensitive to anthropogenic disturbance, and have the potential to fulfil the crucial role of larval sources for the recolonisation of damaged sites elsewhere on the margin.

PMID:
22194903
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3237496
Free PMC Article
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