This is the first description of a Mediterranean mesophotic coral reef. The bioconstruction extended for 2.5 km along the Italian Adriatic coast in the bathymetric range −30/−55 m. It appeared as a framework of coral blocks mostly built by two scleractinians, Phyllangia americana mouchezii (Lacaze-Duthiers, 1897) and Polycyathus muellerae (Abel, 1959), which were able to edify a secondary substrate with high structural complexity. Scleractinian corallites were cemented by calcified polychaete tubes and organized into an interlocking meshwork that provided the reef stiffness. Aggregates of several individuals of the bivalve Neopycnodonte cochlear (Poli, 1795) contributed to the compactness of the structure. The species composition of the benthic community showed a marked similarity with those described for Mediterranean coralligenous communities and it appeared to be dominated by invertebrates, while calcareous algae, which are usually considered the main coralligenous reef-builders, were poorly represented. Overall, the studied reef can be considered a unique environment, to be included in the wide and diversified category of Mediterranean bioconstructions. The main reef-building scleractinians lacked algal symbionts, suggesting that heterotrophy had a major role in the metabolic processes that supported the production of calcium carbonate. The large amount of available suspended organic matter in the area could be the main nutritional source for these species, as already suggested in the literature referred to Mediterranean cold-water corals.
Italy - Adriatic Sea