MEPS 423:101-115 (2011)  -  doi:10.3354/meps08953

Growth rate and age distribution of deep-sea black corals in the Gulf of Mexico

N. G. Prouty1,*, E. B. Roark2, N. A. Buster3, S. W. Ross

1US Geological Survey, 400 Natural Bridges Drive, Santa Cruz, California 95060, USA
2Department of Geography, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843, USA
3US Geological Survey, 600 Fourth Street South, St Petersburg, Florida 33701, USA
4University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Center for Marine Science, 5600 Marvin Moss Ln, Wilmington, North Carolina 28409, USA

ABSTRACT: Black corals (order Antipatharia) are important long-lived, habitat-forming, sessile, benthic suspension feeders that are found in all oceans and are usually found in water depths greater than 30 m. Deep-water black corals are some of the slowest-growing, longest-lived deep-sea corals known. Previous age dating of a limited number of black coral samples in the Gulf of Mexico focused on extrapolated ages and growth rates based on skeletal 210Pb dating. Our results greatly expand the age and growth rate data of black corals from the Gulf of Mexico. Radiocarbon analysis of the oldest Leiopathes sp. specimen from the upper De Soto Slope at 300 m water depth indicates that these animals have been growing continuously for at least the last 2 millennia, with growth rates ranging from 8 to 22 µm yr–1. Visual growth ring counts based on scanning electron microscopy images were in good agreement with the 14C-derived ages, suggestive of annual ring formation. The presence of bomb-derived 14C in the outermost samples confirms sinking particulate organic matter as the dominant carbon source and suggests a link between the deep-sea and surface ocean. There was a high degree of reproducibility found between multiple discs cut from the base of each specimen, as well as within duplicate subsamples. Robust 14C-derived chronologies and known surface ocean 14C reservoir age constraints in the Gulf of Mexico provided reliable calendar ages with future application to the development of proxy records.

KEY WORDS: Black corals · Radiocarbon age · Growth rates · Gulf of Mexico · Oil spill

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Cite this article as: Prouty NG, Roark EB, Buster NA, Ross SW (2011) Growth rate and age distribution of deep-sea black corals in the Gulf of Mexico. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 423:101-115

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