Article

Diversity, distribution, and habitat associations of deep-water echinoderms in the Central Mediterranean

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Abstract

Limited research effort in the Central Mediterranean deep sea has reported a lower species diversity in this area than in adjacent regions. With the recent advent of remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs), the deep sea has become more accessible to surveys, especially rocky benthic areas such as canyons and escarpments. The aim of the present study was to assess diversity, spatial and bathymetric distribution, density, habitat, and microhabitat associations of echinoderms in deep waters around the Maltese Islands. Video data were acquired through ROV surveys as part of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project, at depths of 216 to 1031 m. In total, 25 echinoderm taxa were recorded, including the first Central Mediterranean records of the sea stars Marginaster capreensis (Gasco, 1876) and Sclerasterias neglecta (Perrier, 1891), and the first record of the holothuroid Mesothuria intestinalis (Ascanius, 1805) from Maltese waters. Six species were observed deeper than their currently accepted depth range in the Mediterranean. The most abundant species were the crinoids Antedon mediterranea (Lamarck, 1816) and Leptometra phalangium (Müller, 1841), which formed very dense aggregations of up to 2900 individuals/1000 m2 in a small area to the south of Malta. This area also supports the only known Mediterranean population of the Atlantic sea star Coronaster briareus (Verrill, 1882). Bathymetric distribution varied for each species, and the overall echinoderm diversity seemed stable across the surveyed depths. Since previous deep-sea studies in the area were based on trawling surveys, many deep-sea echinoderm species are reported in the literature as occurring on sedimentary bottoms. However, the present study revealed that several occur more often on rocky substrata, corals, or anthropogenic objects than on sediments. Our study based on video footage also provided insights into the microhabitat of many deep-sea species, yielding information that is not obtainable through remote sampling.

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The sea star Coronaster briareus (Verrill Am J Sci (Ser III), 1882) is reported for the first time from the Mediterranean Sea. A total of 26 individuals were sighted in Maltese waters during ROV surveys made in July 2015 and June–July 2016. The identity of the species was confirmed through morphological examination of a specimen collected in June 2016. This identification is discussed in the light of inconsistencies in the published descriptions of species of Coronaster recorded from the Atlantic, and of individuals belonging to this genus recorded from the eastern Atlantic and whose coloration does not match that of C. briareus or C. volsellatus (the only species of Coronaster hitherto known from the Atlantic). The presence of numerous individuals of C. briareus in Maltese waters, recorded on two occasions a year apart over a relatively large area, indicates that there is an established population. This represents a considerable expansion of the distribution range of this species, which is mostly known from the western Atlantic. Possible reasons for its presence in Maltese waters are discussed, but the dynamics of the occurrence of C. briareus in the central Mediterranean remain unknown.
Article
A new cold-water coral (CWC) province has been identified in the Mediterranean Sea in the Capo Spartivento canyon system offshore the southern coast of Sardinia. The ‘Sardinia cold-water coral province’ is characterized in the Nora canyon by a spectacular coral growth dominated by the branching scleractinian Madrepora oculata at a depth of 380–460 m. The general biohermal frame is strengthened by the common occurrence of the solitary scleractinian Desmophyllum dianthus and the occasional presence of Lophelia pertusa. As documented by Remotely Operated Vehicle survey, this area is a hotspot of megafaunal diversity hosting among other also live specimens of the deep oyster Neopycnodonte zibrowii. The new coral province is located between the central Mediterranean CWC provinces (Bari Canyon, Santa Maria di Leuca, South Malta) and the western and northern ones (Melilla, Catalan-Provençal-Ligurian canyons). As for all the best developed CWC situations in the present Mediterranean Sea, the new Sardinian province is clearly influenced by Levantine Intermediate Water which appears to be a main driver for CWC distribution and viability in this basin.
Article
Earlier and recent sampling carried out in the Aegean Sea revealed the presence of 20 asteroid, 14 ophiuroid, 21 echinoid, and 1 holothuroid species. The ophiuroid Monaphiura apicula, and the echinoids Arbaciella elegans, Echinus melo and Hemiaster expergitus are recorded for the first time in the Eastern Mediterranean; the latter has previously been known only from the Western Mediterranean. The ophiuroid Amphiura (Acrocnida) brachiata is recorded for the first time in the Aegean Sea. For all species, information on their distribution and habitat is given. A checklist of the Mediterranean and Black Sea echinoderms, as well as their distribution in the Mediterranean territorial areas and the Black Sea are also presented. Furthermore, the faunas of the Mediterranean territorial areas are compared. According to the considered data, the number of species decreases as follows: Western Mediterranean, Aegean Sea, Adriatic Sea, Central Mediterranean, Levantine Sea and Black Sea. Species with an Atlanto-Mediterranean distribution dominate in all areas and are followed in numbers by the Mediterranean endemics and cosmopolitans. Four species of Indo-Pacific origin are located in the Levantine and SE Aegean seas.
Chapter
Present-day Mediterranean marine biodiversity is undergoing rapid alteration. Because of the increased occurrence of warm-water biota, it has been said that the Mediterranean is under a process of ‘tropicalization’. This paper analyses the main patterns of the Mediterranean Sea tropicalization and considers briefly its extent and consequences. As happened during previous interglacial phases of the Quaternary, Atlantic water, entering via the Straits of Gibraltar, carries into the Mediterranean species that are prevalently of (sub)tropical affinity. On the other side of the basin, Red Sea species penetrate through the Suez Canal, a phenomenon called lessepsian migration from the name of F. de Lesseps, the French engineer who promoted the cutting of the Canal. Also the many exotic species introduced by humans voluntarily or involuntarily are nearly always typical of warm waters. Climate change combines with Atlantic influx, lessepsian migration and the introduction of exotic species by humans to the establishment of tropical marine biota in the Mediterranean Sea. Present-day warming ultimately favours the spread of warm-water species through direct and indirect effects, and especially by changing water circulation. It is impossible at present to foresee to what extent the exuberance of warm-water species will affect the trophic web and the functioning of marine ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea of tomorrow. While Mediterranean Sea communities are modifying their pattern of species composition, they do not seem to be acquiring a more marked tropical physiognomy: Mediterranean coastal marine ecosystems are still dominated by fron-dose algae (even if the species that are gaining ascendancy are of tropical origin) and not by corals as is normal in tropical seas.
Article
The distribution of megabenthic epifauna (invertebrates) in the Balearic Basin (western Mediterranean) has been analyzed at depths between 427 and 2265 m after compiling samplings performed in 1985–1992 and 2007–2008 with an OTSB-14 bottom trawl. 84 epibenthic taxa of invertebrates (excluded decapod crustaceans) were collected. Epibenthic assemblages were organized in five groups (n-MDS analyses) as a function of increasing depth: upper slope assemblage, U, hauls between 427 and 660 m; middle slope assemblages M1 and M2, hauls between 663–876 m and 864–1412 m, respectively; lower slope assemblages L1 and L2, hauls between 1488–1789 m and 1798–2265 m, respectively). We found significant differences in assemblage composition between all depth-adjacent pairs of groups. Trends in the distribution of biomass vs. depth and within assemblages varied when hauls taken over insular were compared to those over mainland slopes. Over insular slopes we found (n-MDS) only four distinct depth assemblages, with significant differences between all depth-adjacent group pairs, except between L1 and L2. Over the mainland slope, two peaks of biomass situated at U (427–660 m) and at L1 (1488–1789 m) were clearly identified, attributable to the echinoid Brissopsis lyrifera and holothurian Molpadia musculus at U and to the synallactid holothurian Mesothuria intestinalis at L1. The distribution of biomass vs. depth on insular slopes did not follow this pattern, showing no significant biomass peak below 1000 m and a total biomass an order of magnitude lower than adjacent to the mainland. After compiling available environmental data over the mainland slope off Barcelona, we found coincidence between the peak biomass of Mesothuria intestinalis and: i) a significant increase of labile OM (%OrgC, C/N, hydrolizable aminoacids–EHAA, and the EHAA/THAA-total hydrolizable aminoacids-ratio) over 1600 m; and ii) an increase of turbidity and T at 1500–1600 m in February 2008. We suggest that such OM inputs must likely be associated to the formation of nepheloid layers close to submarine canyons, probably associated with oceanographic processes in deep water masses in the area. This would explain why aggregations of M. intestinalis were linked to the mainland part of the Balearic basin, with highest densities located south of canyons. If hotspots of biomass as cited here for M. intestinalis are regulated by factors such as river inputs, both natural climatic changes (e.g. changes in rainfall regimes) and human impact (e.g. river damming) may affect deep-Mediterranean communities below 1000 m.
Litter from dolphinfish fish aggregation devices (FADs): management perspectives based on a Maltese case study
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