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Mapping cold-water coral biomass: an approach to derive ecosystem functions

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Original languageEnglish
JournalCoral Reefs
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2020


This study presents a novel approach resulting in the first cold-water coral reef biomass maps, used to assess associated ecosystem functions, such as carbon (C) stock and turnover. We focussed on two dominant ecosystem engineers at the Mingulay Reef Complex, the coral Lophelia pertusa (rubble, live and dead framework) and the sponge Spongosorites coralliophaga. Firstly, from combining biological (high-definition video, collected specimens), environmental (extracted from multibeam bathymetry) and ecosystem function (oxygen consumption rate values) data, we calculated biomass, C stock and turnover which can feed into assessments of C budgets. Secondly, using those values, we employed random forest modelling to predictively map whole-reef live coral and sponge biomass. The whole-reef mean biomass of S. coralliophaga was estimated to be 304 T (range 168–440 T biomass), containing 10 T C (range 5–18 T C) stock. The mean skeletal mass of the coral colonies (live and dead framework) was estimated to be 3874 T (range 507–9352 T skeletal mass), containing a mean of 209 T of biomass (range 26–515 T biomass) and a mean of 465 T C (range 60–1122 T C) stock. These estimates were used to calculate the C turnover rates, using respiration data available in the literature. These calculations revealed that the epi- and microbial fauna associated with coral rubble were the largest contributor towards C turnover in the area with a mean of 163 T C year−1 (range 149–176 T C year−1). The live and dead framework of L. pertusa were estimated to overturn a mean of 32 T C year−1 (range 4–93 T C year−1) and 44 T C year−1 (range 6–139 T C year−1), respectively. Our calculations showed that the Mingulay Reef overturned three to seven (with a mean of four) times more C than a soft-sediment area at a similar depth. As proof of concept, the supply of C needed from surface water primary productivity to the reef was inferred. Since 65–124 T C year−1 is supplied by natural deposition and our study suggested that a mean of 241 T C year−1 (range 160–400 T C year−1), was turned over by the reef, a mean of 117–176 T C year−1 (range 36–335 T C year−1) of the reef would therefore be supplied by tidal downwelling and/or deep-water advection. Our results indicate that monitoring and/or managing surface primary productivity would be a key consideration for any efforts towards the conservation of cold-water coral reef ecosystems.

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