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Coral habitats in submarine canyons of the Bay of Biscay : distribution, ecology and vulnerability

Inge van den Beld 1 
1 LEP - Laboratoire Environnement Profond
EEP - Etudes des Ecosystèmes Profonds
Abstract : Cold-water coral (CWC) habitats formed by colonial scleractinians, gorgonians, antipatharians and sea pens are biodiversity and biomass hotspots that provide important functions, such as shelter and feeding grounds, to other organisms. But, they are also vulnerable to human activities, because they are long-lived, grow slowly and have a low resistance. Submarine canyons may offer the environmental conditions needed for CWC habitat development, due to their steep topography, complex hydrodynamics and substrate heterogeneity. In the Bay of Biscay, which margin is incised by hundreds of canyons, CWCs are known to exist since the late 19th century, but their distribution, density and functional role remained largely unknown, which impaired their preservation.To increase this knowledge, 24 canyons and three locations between adjacent canyons were visited with an ROV and a towed camera system during 46 dives on 7 cruises. Images were analysed for CWC habitats using the CoralFISH classification system. Within these habitats, corals, associated fauna were identified and substrate cover measured. Litter was identified in 15 out of 24 canyons.Eleven coral habitats constructed by 62 coral morphotypes were observed in the canyons of the Bay of Biscay hosting 191 associated megafaunal morphotypes, including 160 unique morphotypes. The distribution patterns at regional and local scales could be linked to hydrodynamics and sedimentary regimes. Substrate type was an important driver for coral and associated faunal assemblages, distinguishing biogenic, hard substrate and soft substrate habitats. Coral assemblages were similar between biogenic and hard substrate habitats, but the associated fauna was more abundant and diverse on biogenic habitats. The alpha, beta and gamma diversity was surprisingly high on soft substrate habitats, equalling or exceeding that of biogenic habitats.Marine litter was abundant and was mainly composed of plastic items and fishing gear. Litter could co-occur with CWCs and impact them: litter and most CWC habitats were observed at similar water depths and litter was more abundant in areas with a seafloor relief created by biological or geological features. Observations of coral reefs on steeper areas in the canyons and coral debris on flatter areas on the interfluve/upper slope may indicate a potential impact of the fishing industry. This study supports the ongoing effort to create a Natura 2000 network that will protect biogenic and hard substrate habitats, but also points out the need to develop a framework for the preservation of coral habitats on soft substrate.
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Submitted on : Monday, September 18, 2017 - 9:46:24 AM
Last modification on : Thursday, March 17, 2022 - 4:32:01 PM


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  • HAL Id : tel-01588936, version 1



Inge van den Beld. Coral habitats in submarine canyons of the Bay of Biscay : distribution, ecology and vulnerability. Earth Sciences. Université de Bretagne occidentale - Brest, 2017. English. ⟨NNT : 2017BRES0017⟩. ⟨tel-01588936⟩



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