Spatial distribution and habitat characterization of marine animal forest assemblages along nine submarine canyons of Eastern Sardinia (central Mediterranean Sea).

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Publisher: Elsevier B.V.
Document Type: Report
Length: 431 words

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Keywords Vulnerable marine ecosystems; Coral assemblages; Seafloor characteristics; ROV imaging; Twilight zone; Marine litter Highlights * Marine Animal Forests' assemblages dwelling in nine submarine canyons in the center of the Mediterranean sea are described. * More considerable differences in MAFs assemblages densities and composition occurred within canyons. * Local environmental conditions affect the distribution of the investigated MAFs assemblages. * In situ conservation strategies are needed in order to preserve MAFs and their ecological role. Abstract Submarine canyons are peculiar habitats of the continental margin due to their hydrodynamic and geomorphological features. Coral assemblages forming marine animal forests (MAFs) are one of the key benthic components dwelling in these habitats, where they enhance the substrate's heterogeneity and provide shelter, feeding and spawning habitats for a wide variety of species. They are also considered Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs), since their fragile three-dimensional framework and slow growth rate exposes them to multiple anthropogenic stressors. Understanding the coupling processes between environmental factors and the scale at which coral assemblages develop in these habitats, is an essential step towards their protection. This study aims to identify MAFs along submarine canyons in the central Mediterranean basin (Eastern Sardinia) on the basis of video transects carried out using Remotely Operated Vehicle and test the influence of environmental variables (silt coverage, distance from the coast, water depth and slope of the substrate) in driving the spatial distribution variability. We identified nine MAF assemblages dwelling in both rocky and silted substrate, from 90 to 220 m depth. We found that the most significant variability in densities and diversity of MAF assemblages occurs mostly within canyons rather than among canyons that are distant hundreds of km apart. Distance-based linear modelling (DistLM) identified silt coverage and water depth as the main factors explaining the observed variability. Overall our study provided new insights on MAFs composition and spatial distribution in submarine canyons which are, in turn, strongly influenced by local physical conditions. Such results emphasized the need for sound in situ conservation strategies in order to preserve MAFs and their ecological role. Author Affiliation: (a) Dipartimento Delle Scienze Della Vita e Dell'ambiente, Università di Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy (b) CNRS-Sorbonne Université, Laboratoire D'Ecogéochimie des Environnements Benthiques, LECOB, Observatoire Océanologique de Banyuls sur Mer, 1 Avenue Pierre Fabre, 66650, Banyuls sur Mer, France (c) Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Villa Comunale, Napoli, 80121, Italy * Corresponding author. Article History: Received 21 May 2020; Revised 22 October 2020; Accepted 22 October 2020 Byline: Davide Moccia [] (a,*), Alessandro Cau (a), Lorenzo Bramanti (b), Laura Carugati (a), Simonepietro Canese (c), Maria Cristina Follesa (a), Rita Cannas (a)

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A648410966