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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 495:161-173 (2014)  -  DOI:

Population expansion of a new invasive coral species, Tubastraea micranthus, in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Paul W. Sammarco1,2,*, Scott A. Porter1,3, James Sinclair4, Melissa Genazzio1,5

1Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), 8124 Hwy. 56, Chauvin, Louisiana 70344, USA
2Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA
3Ecologic Environmental, PO 886, Houma, Louisiana 70361, USA
4US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, 1201 Elmwood Park Blvd., New Orleans, Louisiana 70123-2394, USA
5Center for Marine Science, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, 601 S. College Rd., Wilmington, North Carolina 28403-5928, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: An Indo-Pacific scleractinian coral has invaded the northern Gulf of Mexico (GOM): Tubastraea micranthus. It was initially observed on one oil platform (GI-93C) near the Mississippi River. Here, we determined whether its populations were spreading and whether there was evidence of rapid expansion. We compared population density data of T. micranthus with those from T. coccinea, a congener which invaded the western Atlantic earlier. Fourteen oil/gas platforms were assessed down to 138 m depth using remotely operated vehicle digital video. Colony densities in numbers m-2 were determined for both species, and colony size was measured for T. micranthus. Data were analyzed by platform and for geographic distribution. T. micranthus densities were highest on GI-93C and on GI-116A, SW of the Mississippi River, being significantly higher than on other platforms. Densities declined radially from there. Mean colony size was highest on MC-311A, with colonies generally being >100 cm2. This platform is situated at the head of the Mississippi Canyon and may have been the original site of colonization. It also receives blue water instead of turbid, lower salinity water, and this species may grow better under those conditions. T. micranthus size frequency distributions were generally skewed towards 1–200 cm2 (5 cm diameter) (sometimes >90% of the population), suggesting that most populations are potentially in an expanding growth phase. T. coccinea densities were high (range: ~50 to 300 colonies m-2). Its populations were also centered SW of the Mississippi River. T. micranthus is spreading through this region, and the window for its potential eradication may be closing.

KEY WORDS: Coral · Invasive species · Tubastraea micranthus · Gulf of Mexico · Spread · Oil platforms

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Cite this article as: Sammarco PW, Porter SA, Sinclair J, Genazzio M (2014) Population expansion of a new invasive coral species, Tubastraea micranthus, in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 495:161-173.

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