In coral reef ecosystems, mesophotic coral habitat (>30 m to the end of the photic zone) are extensions of shallow reefs and contribute to the persistence of coral reef populations. In the North West Gulf of Mexico (NW GOM), the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) is an isolated reef ecosystem comprising contiguous shallow and mesophotic reefs habitats on two central banks along the margin of the continental shelf. A future expansion of the sanctuary is proposed to include additional mesophotic banks and aims at building a network of protected areas in the NW GOM to ensure the persistence of the coral reef populations inhabiting the sanctuary. To evaluate the feasibility of this expansion and investigate the overall dynamics of coral species in the region, we studied the patterns of larval connectivity of Montastraea cavernosa, a common depth generalist coral species, using a larval dispersal modeling approach. Our results highlighted larval exports from the NW GOM banks to the northeastern and southwestern GOM, larval connectivity between all banks investigated in this study, and the potential for exporting larvae from mesophotic to shallower reefs. Our study associated with Studivan and Voss (2018; associate manuscript) demonstrates the relevance of combining modeling and genetic methods to consider both demographic and genetic timescales for the evaluation of the connectivity dynamics of marine populations. In the case of the NW GOM, both studies support the future management plan for expanding FGBNMS.
Scleractinia (Hard Corals)
USA - Gulf of Mexico