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Free Content Coral Reef Project—Papers in Memory of Dr. Thomas F. Goreau. 5.

The Zonation of West Indian Gorgonians

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The distribution and abundance of 38 species of West Indian shallow-water gorgonians were investigated. Although most of the work was done at Discovery Bay, Jamaica, studies were also carried out in Panama, CuraƧao and Puerto Rico. From the summer of 1968 until March 1970, the populations of gorgonians in the Discovery Bay area were kept under frequent observation.

Zonation studies indicated that, within SCUBA diving range, there are ten main zones: the shore zone (0 to 3 m deep); the lagoon zone (1 to 3 m); the rear zone (0.3 to 2 m); the reef flat (0 to 0.5 m); the Acropora palmata zone (4 to 6 m) ; the barren zone (5 to 8 m); the mixed zone (6 to 15 m); the Acropora cervicornis zone (10 to 25 m); the fore-reef slope and pinnacles (20 to 60 m); and the deep fore-reef slope (50 to 75 m). Within each of these zones there is a predictable gorgonian fauna.

Distribution studies indicated that the main factor limiting the distribution of the gorgonians is the availability of a firm substratum suitable for for settling. Other factors are water movement and light. The last is important for the symbiotic species (those with zooxanthellae).

Toppling of the colonies due to weakening of the calcareous substratum by boring organisms is postulated to be the main cause of mortality.

The diversity of the gorgonians depends on the diversity of the substratum. A method utilizing plots of the cumulative diversity of the gorgonians versus increasing size of sample shows that, in some zones, the distribution of the gorgonians is patchy, reflecting the scattered distribution of suitable settling sites.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 March 1973

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