OLI Grant: Colonization Dynamics of Deep-Sea Coral


Grant Funded: 2003

Proposed Research

Large corals occur in dense aggregations on deep seamounts, providing a striking contrast to typical deep-sea communities. Coral aggregations provide habitat for a diverse community of invertebrates and juvenile fish. Individual coral colonies may be 100 years old or more, and recruitment of new colonies appears to be infrequent. Thus, these unique and diverse ecosystems are likely to be highly susceptible to disturbance, which has increased recently as displaced fishermen begin to exploit seamount fisheries.

We propose to investigate how coral aggregations form and persist on seamounts, and to evaluate their susceptibility to disturbance. We will be participating in two cruises to the New England Seamounts in May and July 2003, in order to locate coral aggregations, characterize their environments, and collect specimens. We are requesting OLI funds for laboratory analyses of the specimens and images collected on these cruises. Ages of specimens will be determined with 210Pb analyses, and used to infer the frequency of colonization. The source of colonists (i.e., whether local or remote) will be evaluated from population genetic analyses in collaboration with Scott France. This information will allow us to predict the consequences of disturbance – if recruitment is infrequent, and predominantly from local sources, the coral populations are not likely to recover quickly from disturbance.