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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Mar 31;106(13):5204-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0810875106. Epub 2009 Mar 23.

Extreme longevity in proteinaceous deep-sea corals.

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  • 1Environmental Earth Systems Science, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


Deep-sea corals are found on hard substrates on seamounts and continental margins worldwide at depths of 300 to approximately 3,000 m. Deep-sea coral communities are hotspots of deep ocean biomass and biodiversity, providing critical habitat for fish and invertebrates. Newly applied radiocarbon age dates from the deep water proteinaceous corals Gerardia sp. and Leiopathes sp. show that radial growth rates are as low as 4 to 35 mum year(-1) and that individual colony longevities are on the order of thousands of years. The longest-lived Gerardia sp. and Leiopathes sp. specimens were 2,742 years and 4,265 years, respectively. The management and conservation of deep-sea coral communities is challenged by their commercial harvest for the jewelry trade and damage caused by deep-water fishing practices. In light of their unusual longevity, a better understanding of deep-sea coral ecology and their interrelationships with associated benthic communities is needed to inform coherent international conservation strategies for these important deep-sea habitat-forming species.

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