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Gorgonian community structure and reef zonation patterns on yucatan coral reefs


, : Gorgonian community structure and reef zonation patterns on yucatan coral reefs. Bulletin of Marine Science 45(3): 678-696

The community structure and zonation of gorgonian fauna were studied to determine whether it represented the traditional zonation pattern of the reef as influenced by scleractinian fauna and topographic relief. Seeking to avoid the effect of local variability, a large reef area was quantitatively sampled on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Species abundances in line transects on four reef sections, spanning 42 km of the Yucatan reef tract, we obtained. Quadrat sampling was used to obtain size data for the dominant species. Over 11,000 gorgonian colonies were sampled in more than 140 20-m line transects. The gorgonian fauna reflected the zonation pattern of the reef on large spatial scales, but was less sensitive to the environmental factors that determine the community structure of scleractinian corals. On large spatial scales (such as whole reef zone), availability of substrata and strength of surge action are the more important factors affecting the gorgonian community structure. At smaller spatial scales, however, a high degree of variability was observed in the gorgonian community of apparently homogeneous habitats. Data analysis suggests that different recruitment conditions and subsequent biological interactions may produce patchy gorgonian species distributions in suitable habitats of low substrata diversity, even though no signs of previous disturbances produced by natural catastrophic events, such as hurricanes, are found.

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