Distribution patterns of the sublittoral epibenthic assemblages on a rocky shoal in the Ligurian Sea (NW Mediterranean)
Keywords:hard substrate epibenthos, communities zonation, coralligenous, northwestern Mediterranean
Acquiring baseline data on highly diverse communities such as coralligenous ones is very valuable in order to determine possible shifts in communities and define strategies for their preservation. Distribution of sciaphilic epibenthic communities belonging to the `coralligène de la roche littorale´ was investigated at 30 photostations from 17 to 24 m depth on a rocky shoal off the island complex in the Gulf of La Spezia (Ligurian Sea, NW Mediterranean). Four communities displayed a sharp zonation: Paramuricea clavata characterised deeper, vertical surfaces, whereas on horizontal and medium inclination, sediment-covered substrata, Leptogorgia sarmentosa, together with Eunicella singularis and Eunicella verrucosa, characterised the upper stratum of the deeper community. Shallow vertical walls were characterised by a facies with sponges and zoantharians, whereas community dominated by large, massive colonies of Pentapora fascialis with a basal stratum of sciaphilic algal species patched with sediment on shallow rocky slopes of medium inclination. Bathymetric distribution of assemblages is influenced by high seawater turbidity (mean annual transparency: 11.9 ± 5.7 m at the western site, 6.2 ± 1.6 m at the eastern site), which induces a shift of the upper limit of distribution of these facies to unusually shallow depths. Quantitative data provide a baseline on the study site that will be useful to understand the influence of not only biotic and abiotic factors, but also mass-mortality events, particularly on these communities characterised by high resilience.
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