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Article

A Newly Discovered Forest of the Whip Coral Viminella flagellum (Anthozoa, Alcyonacea) in the Mediterranean Sea: A Non-Invasive Method to Assess Its Population Structure

1
Department of Biology, University of Bari Aldo Moro, 70125 Bari, Italy
2
CoNISMa, 00196 Rome, Italy
3
Oceana, 28013 Madrid, Spain
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: John R. Turner
Biology 2022, 11(1), 39; https://doi.org/10.3390/biology11010039
Received: 23 October 2021 / Revised: 22 December 2021 / Accepted: 22 December 2021 / Published: 28 December 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Conservation of Marine Ecosystems: Selected Papers from MetroSea 2021)
Some corals belonging to the orders Alcyonacea and Antipatharia have elongated, unbranched shapes, and are generally addressed as sea whips. The octocorals Viminella flagellum are the main sea whip species inhabiting the Mediterranean Sea, where they can form large colony aggregations known as coral forests. These habitats are of great conservation importance; they provide a suite of ecosystem goods and services, and their monitoring is essential to plan appropriate conservation strategies. One of the most important indicators on the status of a coral forest is its population structure, such as the frequency of different size classes within the coral population. This is very difficult to assess in sea whips because of the length and high flexibility. Here, we report on the findings of a newly discovered, monospecific forest of V. flagellum in Aeolian Archipelago (Mediterranean Sea), and we present a new method to study its population structure using video analysis. The results of the survey indicate that the Aeolian coral population was in good condition, without significant anthropogenic impacts. The new method presented here proved to be an effective and promising tool for the monitoring of this vulnerable marine ecosystem. It can be applied to every known population of V. flagellum as well as adapted to other sea-whip species.
Coral forests are vulnerable marine ecosystems formed by arborescent corals (e.g., Anthozoa of the orders Alcyonacea and Antipatharia). The population structure of the habitat-forming corals can inform on the status of the habitat, representing an essential aspect to monitor. Most Mediterranean corals live in the mesophotic and aphotic zones, and their population structures can be assessed by analyzing images collected by underwater vehicles. This is still not possible in whip-like corals, whose colony lengths and flexibilities impede the taking of direct length measurements from images. This study reports on the occurrence of a monospecific forest, of the whip coral Viminella flagellum in the Aeolian Archipelago (Southern Tyrrhenian Sea; 149 m depth), and the assessment of its population structure through an ad-hoc, non-invasive method to estimate a colony height based on its width. The forest of V. flagellum showed a mean density of 19.4 ± 0.2 colonies m−2 (up to 44.8 colonies m−2) and no signs of anthropogenic impacts. The population was dominated by young colonies, with the presence of large adults and active recruitment. The new model proved to be effective for non-invasive monitoring of this near threatened species, representing a needed step towards appropriate conservation actions. View Full-Text
Keywords: Anthozoa; animal forest; gorgonian; biometry; mesophotic; ROV; image analysis; IMOD; habitat; Aeolian Islands Anthozoa; animal forest; gorgonian; biometry; mesophotic; ROV; image analysis; IMOD; habitat; Aeolian Islands
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MDPI and ACS Style

Chimienti, G.; Aguilar, R.; Maiorca, M.; Mastrototaro, F. A Newly Discovered Forest of the Whip Coral Viminella flagellum (Anthozoa, Alcyonacea) in the Mediterranean Sea: A Non-Invasive Method to Assess Its Population Structure. Biology 2022, 11, 39. https://doi.org/10.3390/biology11010039

AMA Style

Chimienti G, Aguilar R, Maiorca M, Mastrototaro F. A Newly Discovered Forest of the Whip Coral Viminella flagellum (Anthozoa, Alcyonacea) in the Mediterranean Sea: A Non-Invasive Method to Assess Its Population Structure. Biology. 2022; 11(1):39. https://doi.org/10.3390/biology11010039

Chicago/Turabian Style

Chimienti, Giovanni, Ricardo Aguilar, Michela Maiorca, and Francesco Mastrototaro. 2022. "A Newly Discovered Forest of the Whip Coral Viminella flagellum (Anthozoa, Alcyonacea) in the Mediterranean Sea: A Non-Invasive Method to Assess Its Population Structure" Biology 11, no. 1: 39. https://doi.org/10.3390/biology11010039

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