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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 131:79-85 (2018)  -  DOI:

Mass mortality hits gorgonian forests at Montecristo Island

Eva Turicchia1,2,3,4,*, Marco Abbiati2,3,5,6, Michael Sweet7, Massimo Ponti1,2,3,4

1Dipartimento di Scienze Biologiche, Geologiche e Ambientali (BiGeA), University of Bologna, Via S. Alberto 163, 48123 Ravenna, Italy
2Centro Interdipartimentale di Ricerca per le Scienze Ambientali (CIRSA), Via S. Alberto 163, 48123 Ravenna, Italy
3Consorzio Nazionale Interuniversitario per le Scienze del Mare (CoNISMa), Piazzale Flaminio 9, 00196 Roma, Italy
4Reef Check Italia onlus. c/o Dipartimento di Scienze della Vita e dell’Ambiente (DiSVA), Polytechnic University of Marche, Via Brecce Bianche, 60131 Ancona, Italy
5Dipartimento di Beni Culturali (DBC), University of Bologna, Via degli Ariani 1, 48121 Ravenna, Italy
6Istituto di Scienze Marine (ISMAR), Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, 40126 Bologna, Italy
7Aquatic Research Facility, Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, University of Derby, Derby, DE22 2EY, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Mediterranean gorgonian forests are species-rich habitats, and like many other marine habitats they are threatened by anthropogenic disturbances and mass mortality events. These mortality events have often been linked to anomalies in the temperature profiles of the Mediterranean region. On 5 September 2017, colonies of the gorgonians Eunicella singularis and Eunicella cavolini exhibited rapid tissue loss, down to a depth of 30 m along the steep cliffs of Montecristo Island, Tuscan Archipelago National Park, Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy. Interestingly, Montecristo has previously been identified as a reference site for the ecological quality assessment of the western Mediterranean benthic assemblages on rocky bottoms. The observed mortality event occurred during a period of increased sea temperature. By utilising a combination of high-resolution oceanographic analysis, forecast models and citizen science initiatives, we propose that an early warning system for the concomitance of heat waves and mortality events can be put in place. A temperature-based coral disease surveillance tool could then be established for the entire Mediterranean Sea. Such a tool would allow for the timely study of mass mortality phenomena and the implementation of prompt mitigation and/or restoration initiatives. Finally, this specific mortality event, in a Marine Protected Area, offers a unique opportunity to monitor and assess the resilience of gorgonian populations and associated benthic assemblages in the absence of other, more directly, anthropogenic disturbances such as pollution and land runoff.

KEY WORDS: Coral disease · Global climate change · Mediterranean Sea · Heat wave · Marine protected areas · Marine animal forests

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Cite this article as: Turicchia E, Abbiati M, Sweet M, Ponti M (2018) Mass mortality hits gorgonian forests at Montecristo Island. Dis Aquat Org 131:79-85.

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