Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles

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Marine Biodiversity



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Benthic ecology, Mesoamerican Reef, Gorgonian, Octocoral, Crinoid, Submersible, Corallivory, Predation


Shore-based submersible operations, from 2006 to 2020, have allowed us to examine megabenthic assemblages along the island margin of Isla de Roatán from depths of about 150 to 750 m, including repeated observations of the same organisms. These dives were used to photo-document a diverse benthic assemblage and observe the health and condition of the sessile fauna in a well-explored but relatively undocumented area of the Mesoamerican Reef. Samples were collected by dip net, and some dives profiled the water column chemistry in the year 2011. The deep-sea coral assemblage observed off Roatan exhibits high abundance and diversity. The sessile habitat-forming taxa consist primarily of at least 20 different octocorals (e.g., Plexauridae, Primnoidae, Coralliidae, Isididae, and Ellisellidae) and 20 different sponges each (Demospongiae and Hexactinellida), with several known and unknown taxa of Zoantharia, Antipatharia (Bathypathes spp), and Scleractinia (e.g., Desmophyllum pertusum, Dendrophyllia alternata, Madracis myriaster, and solitary taxa). Crinoidea were also abundant and diverse, represented by at least nine species. Epifaunal assemblages associated with corals include at least 24 macroinvertebrate species dominated by Asteroschema laeve (Ophiuroidea) and Chirostylus spp. (Decapoda: Anomura). Repeated observations of a few large octocoral colonies over many years illustrate patterns of predation, recolonization, and epibiont host fidelity, including a 14-year record of decline in a plexaurid octocoral (putatively Paramuricea sp.) and loss of its resident ophiuroids. The shore-based submersible provides a practical and relatively inexpensive platform from which to study coral and sponge assemblages on a deep tropical island slope. The deep-sea coral gardens are likely to harbor new species and new discoveries if more samples can be acquired and made available for taxonomic research.








“DeepCAST III Expedition,” 27 Nov–3 Dec 2011, Faculty Research Grant, TAMUCC (T. Shirley, P.I.), and MSTF/SOI (P. Etnoyer, P.I.); “Ecology of the “Living Fossil” Holopus rangii (Echinodermata: Crinoidea),” President’s Faculty Research and Development Grant, Nova Southeastern University (C.G. Messing, P.I.)

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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