Biology
British butterfly is evolving to respond to climate change — As global temperatures rise and climatic zones move polewards, species will need to find different environments to prevent extinction. New research, published today in the journal Molecular…
Archaeologists find new evidence of animals being introduced to prehistoric Caribbean — An archaeological research team from North Carolina State University, the University of Washington and University of Florida has found one of the most diverse collections of prehistoric…
Microscopic worms could hold the key to living life on Mars — The astrophysicist Stephen Hawking believes that if humanity is to survive we will have up sticks and colonise space. But is the human body up to the challenge?…
Chemical warfare of stealthy silverfish — A co-evolutionary arms race exists between social insects and their parasites. Army ants (Leptogenys distinguenda) share their nests with several parasites such as beetles, snails and…
Stinky frogs are a treasure trove of antibiotic substances — Some of the nastiest smelling creatures on Earth have skin that produces the greatest known variety of anti-bacterial substances that hold promise for becoming new weapons in the battle…
Genetic code of first arachnid cracked — An international team of scientists - including Ghent VIB scientists - has succeeded in deciphering the genome of the spider mite. This is also the first known genome of an arachnid.…
How bats 'hear' objects in their path — By placing real and virtual objects in the flight paths of bats, scientists at the Universities of Bristol and Munich have shed new light on how echolocation works. Their research is…
Counting cats: The endangered snow leopards of the Himalayas — The elusive snow leopard (Panthera uncia) lives high in the mountains across Central Asia. Despite potentially living across 12 countries the actual numbers of this beautiful large…
Surprise role of nuclear structure protein in development — Scientists have long held theories about the importance of proteins called B-type lamins in the process of embryonic stem cells replicating and differentiating into different varieties…
Pregnancy is a drag for bottlenose dolphins — Lumbering around during the final weeks before delivery is tough for any pregnant mum. Most females adjust their movements to compensate for the extreme physical changes that accompany…
Where am I? > Home > News > Biology

First cold water coral ecosystem discovered off the coast of Mauritania

Science Centric | 13 November 2010 09:50 GMT
Printable version A clip for your blog or website E-mail the story to a friend
Bookmark or share the story on your social network Vote for this article Decrease text size Increase text size
DON'T MISS —
Research on salmonella self-destruction
Research on salmonella self-destruction — ETH Zurich biologists, led by Professors Martin Ackermann and Wolf-Dietrich Hardt, in collaboration with Michael Doebeli…
Scientists find diatom to reduce red tide's toxicity
Scientists find diatom to reduce red tide's toxicity — It's estimated that the red tide algae, Karenia brevis, costs approximately $20 million per bloom in economic damage off…
More Biology

From previous research projects, Professor Andre Freiwald, head of the marine research department (Senckenberg am Meer, Wilhelmshaven) already had an idea of the extent of the cold water coral bank which, on the basis of previous knowledge, was located unusually far to the south. Now the Senckenberg scientist reports from on board the Maria S. Merian research ship that the first cold water coral reef with living animals has been discovered off the coast of Mauritania. In the middle of the enormous rock formation of the undersea canyon area, the scientists also stumbled across the giant deep sea oyster, a Methuselah among sea creatures.

The coral wall on the continental shelf off the coast of Mauritania measures 50 to 60 m high and is 190 km long. When the Swedish robot pilot Tomas Lundaelv of the Sven Loven Centre of the University of Gothenburg set down a diving robot on the seafloor at a depth of 615 m, the scientist on board the research ship found himself via a video link in the middle of a flourishing coral ecosystem. Andre Freiwald reports on a heavily calcified Lophelia coral with orange-red polyps and gorgonias, which, beside the reef-building stony corals, formed imposing octocoral gardens in the dark and otherwise inaccessible habitat. According to the excited expedition report, giant clams also hang on the coral galleries, in exactly the same way as is found elsewhere in Norwegian reef systems.

Such impressive ecosystems were previously only known above all from regions of the sea located much further to the north, around Scandinavia and in the Irish Sea. Unlike their tropical relatives, found by snorkellers and scuba divers in the illuminated and significantly warmer surface waters, cold water corals live at a cold 13 in the dark and nutrient-rich deep sea region below 200 m. Andre Freiwald was aware of a loose cold water coral reef which extends to southern regions. Until now, however, scientists had only found fossil coral reef structures on the seafloor off the coast of Gibraltar and Morocco.

While the Maria S. Merian, equipped with a dynamic positioning system, accompanied the diving robot step by step, the on-board coral team followed the exploratory dive, around 60 km west of Cape Tamirist, which took them into absolutely uncharted waters. Metre by metre, the device worked its way up the slope following a navigation chart drawn up by the Senckenberg scientist, Dr Lydia Beuck, when at a depth of approximately 500 m, the coral group discovered further Lophelia colonies in a bizarre rock formation which nevertheless have a significantly more fragile development of calcification. In his report, Andre Freiwald writes that at the same time, the diversity of sponges and large crustaceans at the location increased significantly. Among other things, the scientists found the powerful carrier crab Paromola here, and on diving through the rocky landscape, also found the giant deep sea oyster Neopycnodonte, also never before observed so far to the south. These giant oysters form thick populations and can be described as Methuselahs among animals, with some individuals living for over 500 years.

For the scientists on board the Maria S. Merian, the discovery of the ecosystem with living cold water corals came as a surprise. Andre Freiwald sees one reason for the southern occurrence of the anthozoans which are adapted to cold temperatures in the upwelling ocean cells steered by the Passat wind. The offshore winds push the surface waters from the Mauritanian cliffs out into the open ocean and thereby permit a following flow of cold and nutrient-rich water from the depths. This evidently not only ensures that the Mauritanian waters are among the richest of any in fish but also presumably also provides the cold water corals with appropriate feed. According to statements by coral experts, the marine creatures feed on the nutrients released by plankton organisms.

The 16th research voyage with the Maria S. Merian, under the leadership of Professor Hildegard Westphal from the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Ecology in Bremen, ends on 20 November in Mindelo (Cape Verde). Until then, it will stop at and chart further parts of the coral system in the canyon of the continental shelf off the coast of Mauritania. Andre Freiwald expects the next dives on this expedition to provide information as to whether the newly discovered ecosystem represents a single structure or whether a spatially extended living reef province exists in the southern waters.

The samples documented and permanently fixed during the voyage by Dr Claudia Wienberg (MARUM, University of Bremen) and the Italian expert on corals, Dr Marco Taviani (CNR-ISMAR, Bologna) will then be further investigated in the home laboratories.

Source: Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum


Leave a comment
The details you provide on this page [e-mail address] will not be used to send unsolicited e-mail, and will not be supplied to a third party! Please note that we can not promise to give everyone a response. Comments are fully moderated. Once approved they will be posted within 24 hours.
Expand the form to leave a comment

RSS FEEDS, NEWSLETTER
Find the topic you want. Science Centric offers several RSS feeds for the News section.

Or subscribe for our Newsletter, a free e-mail publication. It is published practically every day.

Foul owls use faeces to show they are in fine featherFoul owls use faeces to show they are in fine feather

— Some years ago, within the Department of Conservation Biology of the Estacion Biologica de Donana (EBD-Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas; Seville,…

Scientists discover new bird speciesScientists discover new bird species

— Scientists at the Smithsonian Institution have discovered a new species of bird in Gabon, Africa, that was, until now, unknown to the scientific community. Their…

Rare behind-the-scenes peek at national treasuresRare behind-the-scenes peek at national treasures

— Residents and visitors to Canberra are in for a rare treat this National Science Week (16-24 August) when CSIRO Discovery reveals behind-the-scenes glimpses of Australia's…

Study offers new evidence of how snake fangs evolved from regular teethStudy offers new evidence of how snake fangs evolved from regular teeth

— A study published in the most recent issue of Nature offers new evidence for how snake fangs evolved from regular teeth. Many advanced snakes use fangs - specialised…

Popular tags in Biology: bird · mammal · photosynthesis · plant