Gorgonian Communities in Two Contrasting Environments on Oceanic Atolls of the Southwestern Caribbean
Gorgonian assemblages were surveyed on two oceanic atolls in the southwestern Caribbean Sea (Albuquerque Cays and Courtown Cays, Colombia). Classification analysis showed two well defined assemblages located in two contrasting environments, mid-depth (4 - 11 m) lagoonal patch reefs vs. deeper (10.5 - 20.5 m) leeward and windward fore-reef terraces. Correspondence analysis ordination (COA) yielded a more gradual transition, locating the leeward terrace intermediate between the calm lagoonal patch reefs and the strongly wave-exposed windward fore-reef terrace. Bottom rugosity was significantly correlated to COA scores. Although the counts of gorgonian colonies per station were quite similar in both environments, species number, colony size and cover index values were significantly greater in the fore-reef terraces, suggesting that zones with low relief bottoms exposed to surf and swell represent a more suitable habitat for the development of diverse and structurally more complex gorgonian communities than the calm lagoonal environment. A striking difference between lagoonal and fore-reef terrace assemblages is that each is dominated by closely related species of Pseudopterogorgia, suggesting an important role of contrasting environmental conditions in their niche distribution.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 01 September 1997
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