Cold-water coral reef frameworks, megafaunal communities and evidence for coral carbonate mounds on the Hatton Bank, north east Atlantic

Murray Roberts, Lea-Anne Henry, David Long, J. P. Hartley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Offshore banks and seamounts sustain diverse megafaunal communities, including framework reefs formed by cold-water corals. Few studies have quantified environmental effects on the alpha or beta diversity of these communities. We adopted an interdisciplinary approach that used historical geophysical data to identify topographic highs on Hatton Bank, which were surveyed visually. The resulting photographic data were used to examine relationships between megafaunal communities and macrohabitat, the latter defined into six categories (mud, sand, cobbles, coral rubble, coral framework, rock). The survey stations revealed considerable small-scale variability in macrohabitat from exposed Late Palaeocene lava flows to quiescent muddy habitats and coral-built carbonate mounds. The first reported evidence for coral carbonate mound development in UK waters is presented, which was most pronounced near present-day or former sites of topographic change, suggesting that local current acceleration favoured coral framework growth and mound initiation. Alpha diversity varied significantly across macrohabitats, but not between rock and coral rubble, or between smaller grain sized categories of cobbles, sand and mud. Community composition differed between most macrohabitats, and variation in beta diversity across Hatton Bank was largely explained by fine-scale substratum. Certain megafauna were clearly associated with particular macrohabitats, with stylasterid corals notably associated with cobble and rock habitats and coral habitats characterized by a diverse community of suspension-feeders. The visual surveys also produced novel images of deep-water megafauna including a new photographic record of the gorgonian coral Paragorgia arborea, a species not previously reported from Rockall Plateau. Further interdisciplinary studies are needed to interpret beta diversity across these and other environmental gradients on Hatton Bank. It is clear that efforts are also needed to improve our understanding of the genetic connectivity and biogeography of vulnerable deep-water ecosystems and to develop predictive models of their occurrence that can help inform future conservation measures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-316
Number of pages20
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2008


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