A Five-Year, In Situ Growth Study on Shallow-Water Populations of the Gorgonian Octocoral Calcigorgia spiculifera in the Gulf of Alaska
Gorgonian octocorals are the most abundant corals in Alaska where they provide important structural habitat for managed species of demersal fish and invertebrates. Fifty-nine gorgonian species have been reported from Alaska waters but little is known about their life history characteristics to help us gauge their ability to recover from seafloor disturbance. Colonies of the holaxonian Calcigorgia spiculifera were tagged beginning in 1999 at three sites in Chatham Strait, Southeast Alaska, using scuba and their growth measured annually for up to 5 years. Colonies were video recorded, and computer image analysis tools provided calibration of video images for measuring the length of several branches. Growth data indicate that C. spiculiferagrows much slower (6.0 mm yr-1) than other gorgonians in Alaska for which there are data and that intraspecific growth is highly variable. We fit a Bayesian linear mixed-effects model that showed that average colony growth was significantly reduced with warmer temperature and presence of necrosis. The model further indicated that growth may slow among larger (older) colonies. Based on these results and previous studies, we propose that gorgonian growth rates are taxonomically constrained at the Suborder level and that holaxonians grow the slowest followed by scleraxonians and calcaxonians (2–3 times as fast). Findings of this study indicate that it would take approximately 60 years for C. spiculifera to grow to its maximum size and depending on the location and size of the parental standing stock, at least one and possibly 10 additional years for recruitment to occur. Our results further indicate that colonies that are injured, perhaps chronically in areas of frequent disturbance, grow at slower rates and if the current trend of ocean warming continues then we can expect these corals to grow more slowly, and the habitats they form will require more time to recover from disturbance.
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