• Deep-sea coral biogeography and community structure in tropical seamount environments

      Cordes, Erik E.; Sanders, Robert W.; Helmus, Matthew R.; Demopoulos, Amanda W. J. (Temple University. Libraries, 2020)
      As the largest and most poorly environment on Earth, the deep-sea is facing global threats from climate change and anthropogenic disturbance further compounded by the lack of critical baseline data on seafloor species composition and community structure. Many data-deficient regions include those in geographically-isolated offshore environments, like low-latitude seamounts, where sampling and surveys have been limited, resulting in critical knowledge gaps that do not allow for effective conservation measures to be realized. This work seeks to characterize the coral fauna of tropical seamount environments greater than 150 m depth and understand the environmental controls on species distribution and community assembly for long-lived, ecologically-important species, primarily from the Octocorallia, Antipatharia, Stylasteridae, and Scleractinia. Methodologies for accomplishing this research have included analysis of remotely operated vehicle (ROV) video surveys and identification of collected voucher specimens to understand biogeographic patterns within coral communities on seamounts and other rugged seafloor features in 3 different regions: the tropical western Atlantic (Anegada Passage), the equatorial central Pacific (Phoenix Islands), and the tropical eastern Pacific (Costa Rica). These regions represent vastly different oceanographic regimes in terms of biological productivity and water column structure resulting in differential effects on deep-sea coral communities. Evidence from these three regions has shown significant effects of the role that oceanic water masses have on structuring deep-water coral biodiversity and suggests that these features, along with other abiotic environmental variables, are important indicators for understanding species distribution patterns, community structure, and global biogeographic patterns. More broadly, the results of this work have demonstrated the capabilities of exploratory ROV surveys, across multiple platforms, to add practical knowledge to coral species inventories and identify bathyal biogeographic patterns in remote regions of the deep sea. The results of this work, serving as baseline coral biodiversity surveys for each area, are also germane to evaluating the effects of human-mediated disturbance and global climate change in the deep ocean. These disturbances also include ocean acidification, ocean deoxygenation, deep-sea mining, and bottom-contact fishing, all of which have been identified as threats to the seamount benthos.