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Distribution of deep-water scleractinian and stylasterid corals across abiotic environmental gradients on three seamounts in the Anegada Passage

August 10, 2020

In the Caribbean Basin the distribution and diversity patterns of deep-sea scleractinian corals and stylasterid hydrocorals are poorly known compared to their shallow-water relatives. In this study, we examined species distribution and community assembly patterns of scleractinian and stylasterid corals on three high-profile seamounts within the Anegada Passage, a deep-water throughway linking the Caribbean Sea and western North Atlantic. Using remotely operated vehicle surveys conducted on the E/V Nautilus by the ROV Hercules in 2014, we characterized coral assemblages and seawater environmental variables between 162 and 2,157 m on Dog Seamount, Conrad Seamount, and Noroît Seamount. In all, 13 morphospecies of scleractinian and stylasterid corals were identified from video with stylasterids being numerically more abundant than both colonial and solitary scleractinians. Cosmopolitan framework-forming species including Madrepora oculata and Solenosmilia variabilis were present but occurred in patchy distributions among the three seamounts. Framework-forming species occurred at or above the depth of the aragonite saturation horizon with stylasterid hydrocorals being the only coral taxon observed below Ωarag values of 1. Coral assemblage variation was found to be strongly associated with depth and aragonite saturation state, while other environmental variables exerted less influence. This study enhances our understanding of the factors that regulate scleractinian and stylasterid coral distribution in an underreported marginal sea and establishes a baseline for monitoring future environmental changes due to ocean acidification and deoxygenation in the tropical western Atlantic.