Bongaerts et al. 2015

scientific_article | Sci Rep

Deep down on a Caribbean reef: lower mesophotic depths harbor a specialized coral-endosymbiont community

Bongaerts P, Frade PR, Hay KB, Englebert N, Latijnhouwers KRW, Bak RPM, Vermeij MJA, Hoegh-Guldberg O

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The composition, ecology and environmental conditions of mesophotic coral ecosystems near the lower limits of their bathymetric distributions remain poorly understood. Here we provide the first in-depth assessment of a lower mesophotic coral community (60–100 m) in the Southern Caribbean through visual submersible surveys, genotyping of coral host-endosymbiont assemblages, temperature monitoring and a growth experiment. The lower mesophotic zone harbored a specialized coral community consisting of predominantly Agaricia grahamae, Agaricia undata and a “deep-water” lineage of Madracis pharensis, with large colonies of these species observed close to their lower distribution limit of ~90 m depth. All three species associated with “deep-specialist” photosynthetic endosymbionts (Symbiodinium). Fragments of A. grahamae exhibited growth rates at 60 m similar to those observed for shallow Agaricia colonies (~2–3 cm yr−1), but showed bleaching and (partial) mortality when transplanted to 100 m. We propose that the strong reduction of temperature over depth (Δ5°C from 40 to 100 m depth) may play an important contributing role in determining lower depth limits of mesophotic coral communities in this region. Rather than a marginal extension of the reef slope, the lower mesophotic represents a specialized community, and as such warrants specific consideration from science and management.

Research sites

10.1038   srep07652
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Depth range
60- 100 m

Mesophotic “relevance”
97x mentions

Word count
6289 words

Community structure Biodiversity Ecology Molecular ecology

Research focus
Scleractinia (Hard Corals) Symbiodinium (zooxanthellae)


Research platforms
Manned Submersible
Author profiles
Rolf Bak ( 15 pubs)
Pim Bongaerts ( 23 pubs)
Norbert Englebert ( 8 pubs)
Pedro Frade ( 6 pubs)
Mark Vermeij ( 7 pubs)
Research sites (dec deg)
Seaquarium reef
Lat: 12.084 Long: -68.898

Buoy 0/1
Lat: 12.125 Long: -68.974