The distribution of benthic foraminifera in Bel Torrente submarine cave (Sardinia, Italy) and their environmental significance

Highlights

• Benthic foraminifera in Mediterranean submarine caves were studied for the first time.
• Ecological zones were recognized in the cave environment.
• Change of environmental parameters influence species diversity and distribution.
• Species in the cave are not common in the Sardinian marine coastal area.
• An effective dispersal mechanism is supposed for cave colonization.

Abstract

The use of benthic foraminifera as ecological indicators in submarine caves of temperate seas have never been studied before and it represents a new approach, verified by this research. The Bel Torrente submarine cave (Gulf of Orosei, Sardinia, Italy) was surveyed by GUE (Global Underwater Explorers) scuba divers in order to georeferencing the cave before positioning the sampling stations, from the entrance to 430 m inside the cave. A total of 15 water samples were collected to investigate abiotic parameters (temperature, salinity, pH) while 15 sediment samples were collected to analyze grain size and benthic foraminifera. Benthic foraminifera, investigated for the first time in a submarine cave of temperate areas, were exclusively found from the entrance to 300 m inside the cave. Species distribution and assemblage diversity have been found to be correlated to the environmental gradient towards the inner cave, mainly due to the decreasing of temperature and salinity and the increasing of the flow energy. Water acidification seems responsible for the transition from a calcareous hyaline-dominated assemblage to an agglutinant-dominated one, occurring between 120 and 150 m from the entrance. Common taxa of the Sardinian coastal marine area are present only close to the entrance of the cave, while species found in the inner part are nearly exclusively epifaunal clinging/attached or infaunal taxa, with tolerance for wide variability of environmental parameters, such as Gavelinopsis praegeri, and opportunist infaunal taxa such as Eggerella advena. The agglutinant taxa found in the cave are conversely very rare in coastal marine assemblages of the area. This suggests a very efficient dispersal mechanism for the colonization of the caves, involving probably juvenile foraminifera at a “propagule” stage.

Romano E., Bergamin L., Pierfranceschi G., Provenzani C. & Marassich A., in press. The distribution of benthic foraminifera in Bel Torrente submarine cave (Sardinia, Italy) and their environmental significance. Marine Environmental Research. Article (subscription required).

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