Recurrent partial mortality events in winter shape the dynamics of the zooxanthellate coral Oculina patagonica at a high latitude in the Mediterranean

Serrano, E.; Ribes, M.; Coma, R.
Coral Reefs
Global warming has many biological effects on corals and plays a central role in the regression of tropical coral reefs; therefore, there is an urgent need to understand how some coral species have adapted to environmental conditions at higher latitudes. We examined the effects of temperature and light on the growth of the zooxanthellate coral Oculina patagonica (Scleractinia, Oculinidae) at the northern limit of its distribution in the eastern Iberian Peninsula (western Mediterranean) by transplanting colonies onto plates and excluding them from space competition over a *4-yr period. Each year, most of the colonies (*70%) exhibited denuded skeletons with isolated polyps persisting on approximately half of the coral surface area. These recurrent episodes of partial coral mortality occurred in winter, and their severity appeared to be related to colony exposure to cold but not to light. Although O. patagonica exhibited high resistance to stress, coral linear extension did not resume until the coenosarc regenerated. The resumption of linear extension was related to the dissociation of the polyps from the coenosarc and the outstanding regenerative capacity of this species (10.3 mm2 d-1). These biological characteristics allow the species to survive at high latitudes. However, the recurrent and severe pattern of denuded skeletons greatly affects the dynamics of the species and may constrain population growth at high latitudes in the Mediterranean.
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