Vertical and horizontal distribution of Desmophyllum dianthus in Comau Fjord, Chile: a cold-water coral thriving at low pH

Cold-water corals provide an important habitat for a rich fauna along the continental margins and slopes. Although these azooxanthellate corals are considered particularly sensitive to ocean acidification, their responses to natural variations in pH and aragonite saturation are largely unknown due to the difficulty of studying their ecology in deep waters. Previous SCUBA investigations have shown an exceptionally shallow population of the cold-water coral Desmophyllum dianthus in near-surface waters of Comau Fjord, a stratified 480 m deep basin in northern Chilean Patagonia with suboxic deep waters. Here, we use a remotely operated vehicle to quantitatively investigate the distribution of D. dianthus and its physico-chemical drivers in so far uncharted naturally acidified waters. Remarkably, D. dianthus was ubiquitous throughout the fjord, but particularly abundant between 20 and 280 m depth in a pH range of 8.4 to 7.4. The persistence of individuals in aragonite-undersaturated waters suggests that present-day D. dianthus in Comau Fjord may show pre-acclimation or pre-adaptation to conditions of ocean acidification predicted to reach over 70% of the known deep-sea coral locations by the end of the century.

Fillinger L. & Richter C., 2013. Vertical and horizontal distribution of Desmophyllum dianthus in Comau Fjord, Chile: a cold-water coral thriving at low pH. PeerJ 1:e194. Article.

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