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Growth rates of deep sea coral communities revealed for the first time

  Deep Sea Coral

This is a deep sea coral community off the Big Island of Hawaii. Credit: University of Hawaii, Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory

Collaboration between researchers from the University of Hawaii (UH) at the Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology (SOEST), the Hawai'i Pacific University (HPU) and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed for the first time growth rates of deep sea coral communities and the pattern of colonization by various species.

The scientific team used UH Mānoa Hawai submarine research laboratory, which is submersible and remotely controlled vehicles to study coral communities on submarine lava flows of various ages on the Lee flank of the island of Hawaii. Taking advantage of the fact that the age of lava flows ̵

1; between 61 and 15,000 years – is the oldest possible age of the coral community growing there, they observed that the deepwater coral community in Hawaii appears to undergo a pattern of ecological succession from centuries to millennia.

The study published this week (PDF) reported Coralliidae pink corals, were the seminal taxa that colonized first after the deposition of lava flows. Over time, the deepwater coral community has shifted towards supporting a more diverse set of tall, slower-growing taxa: Isididae bamboo coral and antipatharia black coral. The last colonialist was Kulamanamana haumeaae gold coral, which grows over mature bamboo corals and is the slowest-growing taxa in the community.

  Pink and Gold Coral

Precious pink coral in the family Coralliidae (left) and golden coral (Kulamanamana haumeae, right) observed during the transect. Credit: NOAA Office for Ocean Research and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana

"This study was the first to estimate the growth rate of deepwater coral in the community scale," said Meagan Putts, lead author of the study and research associate at the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR) of the SOEST. "This could help inform the management of precious coral fisheries in Hawaii. In addition, Hawaii is probably the only place in the world where such an investigation could have been made because of its continuous and well-known volcanology. "

" Before starting this work, it was unclear whether a settlement pattern existed for deep-sea coral communities and in what timeframe would a colonization take place, "Putts said. "In conjunction with what we know about the life history of Hawaiian deep-water corals, the results of this work are meaningful."

The fastest growing species with calcium-based skeletons, a ubiquitous building material in the deep sea, Coralliidae populated first and to a greater extent. Corals with protein-based or partially protein-based skeletons were later seen in the colonization era, as the formation of proteinaceous components requires organic nitrogen, which is a much more limiting resource in the deep sea. Gold coral, Kulamanamana haumeaae also has a protein-based skeleton, but was the last species to be found in community development because a boll coral host colony must exist and be large enough for colonization.

This study has important implications for the conservation and sustainability of these ecosystems that have never been ecologically quantified before. This study also provides insights into the restoration of deep-sea ecosystems that may be disturbed by activities such as fishing and mining .

"As the island of Hawaii continues to experience periodic eruptions that have lately generated lava flows in deep water, the opportunity to study initial settlement patterns in May 2018 will appreciate the influence of hot, murky, mineral-rich water from new rivers on coral communities. "

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