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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 494:159-177 (2013)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10591

Environmental factors that influence the distribution, size, and biotic relationships of the Christmas tree coral Antipathes dendrochristos in the Southern California Bight

David D. Huff1,2,*, Mary M. Yoklavich1, Milton S. Love3, Diana L. Watters1, Fei Chai4, Steven T. Lindley

1Fisheries Ecology Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Santa Cruz, California 95060, USA
2Institute of Marine Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz, California 65064, USA
3Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106-6150, USA
4School of Marine Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469-5706, USA

ABSTRACT: The Christmas tree coral Antipathes dendrochristos is a recently discovered black coral species that represents a habitat associated with numerous sensitive taxa in the Southern California Bight. We evaluated whether broad-scale oceanographic features influence coral density and size by selecting from among generalized additive models (for density) and generalized linear models (for size) that represented competing hypotheses. We constructed models to predict coral density and size using depth, seafloor slope, surface primary productivity, bottom currents, ocean temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen as candidate covariates. Specifically, we evaluated hypothesized links between pelagic production and benthic coral utilization and between bottom currents and larval coral dispersal. Our analysis revealed that high surface primary productivity in combination with depth and January currents are important predictors of Christmas tree coral density. Higher coral density coincided with greater chlorophyll persistence and optimal depths near 400 m. Surface productivity increasingly was associated with Christmas tree corals at shallower depths. Our results supported the hypothesis that ocean currents affect coral density via larval dispersal mechanisms. The selected coral size models responded to similar covariates, corroborating coral density results. Fish and invertebrate ordinations indicated that Christmas tree corals were widely distributed across environmental gradients and that Christmas tree corals co-occurred with several demersal fish and invertebrates. Several predicted coral hotspots remain unprotected from fishing, particularly in areas adjacent to highly populated portions of the Southern California Bight. These regions should be targeted by future studies to confirm the presence of Christmas tree coral communities and to evaluate their vulnerability.


KEY WORDS: Antipatharia · Black corals · Deep sea corals · Cold-water corals · ROMS · Predictive modeling · Indirect gradient analysis


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Cite this article as: Huff DD, Yoklavich MM, Love MS, Watters DL, Chai F, Lindley ST (2013) Environmental factors that influence the distribution, size, and biotic relationships of the Christmas tree coral Antipathes dendrochristos in the Southern California Bight. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 494:159-177. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10591

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