Cold-water coral communities: a bridge between geology, ecology and oceanography

29 Juny 2018
Sala d'Actes
Impartida per: 
Dr. Claudio Lo Iacono
National Oceanographic Center, Southampton, Regne Unit


Cold-Water Coral (CWC) communities are Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems and are listed as habitat of special interest in several international actions on marine environmental protection. CWC ecosystems are considered as deep sea biodiversity hotspots, serving as nursery grounds, feeding and refuge areas for a highly diverse associated fauna including several fish of economic importance and invertebrate species. This is especially true for “stony corals”, some of which are able to build hard skeletons forming complex three-dimensional bioconstructions, as reefs and carbonate mounds. CWC mounds are the product of complex interactions through the geologic time between calcifying organisms and the surrounding environment, and deeply contribute in affecting the evolution of the submarine landscape in space and time. Important variables contributing to the evolution of these carbon factories include sedimentary dynamics, food supply, physical and chemical characteristics of water masses and local hydrodynamic regimes. For the reasons above CWC mounds are also considered as archives of past climate and oceanographic conditions.

In this talk I will present an overview of CWC mounds in the Alboran Sea (western Mediterranean) through a multidisciplinary and holistic approach, focusing on their evolution since the Lat Glacial Maximum until the present-day. Stratigraphic, ecologic and geochemical analyses of gravity cores on the Alboran mounds, corroborated by absolute dating, reveal intense coral growth during the Bølling-Allerød period (14.7-12.7ky BP), whereas the demise of suitable conditions for CWCs roughly coincides with the end of the Organic Rich Layer 1 (~9.2ky BP). However, despite Alboran CWC mounds nowadays being inactive, recent findings revealed the existence of pristine reefs of Lophelia pertusa and Madrepora oculata, totally uncommon for the Mediterranean Sea. Measures of oceanographic variables and seafloor heterogeneity across different spatial scales reveal the actual oceanographic regimes essential for the sustenance of deep sea ecosystem services, maintaining thriving living corals through a direct nutritional link between surface productivity and 300 m deep reefs. The conclusive part of the talk will explore new cutting-edge methodologies in predicting CWC distribution and quantifying their physical heterogeneity through 3D photogrammetry extracted from ROV footage, having direct implications in the science-based management of natural resources.

Brief Biography

Senior scientist at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), Southampton - UK. PhD in 2004 in Sedimentary Geology at the University "Federico II", Naples - Italy. Post-doctoral fellowships (MEC, I3P) between 2005 and 2012 at UTM-CSIC. EU-Marie Curie Senior research contract at NOC in 2012-2014. Permanent position at NOC since 2014. Co-head of the "Seafloor processes and Habitats" Team in the Marine Geoscience Department at NOC since 2015.