Studivan MS, Milstein G, Voss JD. 2019. Montastraea cavernosa corallite structure demonstrates distinct morphotypes across shallow and mesophotic depth zones in the Gulf of Mexico. PLoS ONE 14:e0203732 doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0203732
This study was funded by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), and is a product of a collaborative effort led by the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology (CIOERT) headquartered at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. CIOERT seeks to increase our understanding of mesophotic connectivity and ecology through enhanced habitat characterization and development of exploration technologies. Our collaborators and partners include Flower Garden Banks and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries, UNCW Undersea Vehicle Program, and UM Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS).
We examined skeletal microstructures of shallow and mesophotic Montastraea cavernosa in the northwest GOM (Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and downstream banks) and the southeast GOM (Pulley Ridge and Dry Tortugas). The study identified that mesophotic corallites are smaller and further apart than shallow corallites, which is a common photoadaptive and metabolic strategy in low-light environments. Additionally, we found a subset of samples that shared morphological similarities to the smaller-corallite mesophotic samples, with a large depth distribution. The two morphological variants, or morphotypes, had differences in algal symbiont densities and chlorophyll concentrations, suggesting potential photoadaptation and a genotypic role on coral morphology.