Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles

Regionalization of benthic hard-bottom communities across the Pourtalès Terrace, Florida



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Publication Title

Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers



Publication Date



Deep-water coral, Habitat characterization, Coral habitat areas of particular concern, Marine protected areas, Lophelia pertusa, Florida straits


The Pourtalès Terrace is an exposed hard-bottom platform located south of the Florida Keys in 200–450 m depth with a diverse deep-sea coral ecosystem dominated by stylasterid hydrocorals, octocorals, and sponges that supports recreational and commercial fisheries. Portions of the Terrace have been designated as managed areas in the absence of detailed habitat maps, which hampers identifying ecological benefits derived from such management actions. Here we report analyses of historic Terrace physiographic and geologic data with more recent high-resolution bathymetric and benthic data to statistically derive a benthic community characterization across the Terrace. Multivariate analyses of faunal density from 42 standardized sites showed spatially distinct communities: East Terrace, West Terrace, Upper Terrace Edge, Sinkholes and Lophelia Coral Mound (the southernmost record of this habitat in the continental U.S.). These corresponded to physiographic divisions into an Upper Terrace comprised of Central and Karst-like regions, and Lower Terrace. A detailed description of these communities is provided. This study presents new insights into the Terrace benthic community spatial arrangement and is a necessary step towards facilitating benthic mapping. Our recommendations highlight the information needed for benthic habitat map creation and collecting data to determine if current conservation boundaries match management goals.





First Page



We gratefully acknowledge the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology (CIOERT) at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Florida Atlantic University (HBOI-FAU). The crews of the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster and the University of Connecticut’s Kraken 2 ROV are thanked for their support and efforts, which made this cruise a success. CIOERT gratefully acknowledges funding provided by NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER Grant #: NA090AR4320073), NOAA Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program (DSCRTP; CIOERT Project #: II-CO-DCE-6), and NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) in support of the research, ship time, and ROV time. Funding for data analysis was also provided by NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) through the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Grant #: NA11NMF4410061). Thank you to the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science for providing funding for this manuscript. We also thank Stephen Cairns (Smithsonian Institution) for identifications of a variety of corals.

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