Red coral (Corallium rubrum, L. 1758) is an over-exploited Mediterranean gorgonian. The gonadal development cycle of this gorgonian is examined at the Costa Brava (NW Mediterranean) taking into account for the first time colony size, depth and spatial horizontal variability. This study compares the gonad development and fertility in two colony size classes (colonies <6-cm height, and >10-cm height, both at 40–45-m depth), and two populations at different depths (16–18-m depth, and 40–45-m depth, both consisting of <6-cm high colonies) in a 15-month period. The fertility of seven size classes (<2 cm to >12 cm high colonies, in 2 cm intervals) was examined in the deep population, where large colonies were present. Furthermore, reproductive output was compared in 6 populations (distributed along more than 70-km coastline) one month before spawning (June). Red coral was found to be dioecious and gonochoric with a sex ratio of 1:1, which differs from other NW Mediterranean populations. On the other hand, fertility of different size classes indicates that small colonies of 2-cm height already produce gonads, which is in line with previous studies. Female and male polyp fertility and sperm sac size increase significantly with colony size [sperm sac diameter: 476±144 μm (mean±SD) and 305±150 μm in the >10-cm and <6-cm height colonies, respectively), whereas no significant effect on oocyte diameter was found (oocyte diameter: 373.7±18.7 μm). Depth staggered spawning, that is, an earlier release of gonads in the shallow populations, was observed in summer 2003, coinciding with the highest temperature gradient between shallow and deep water during the study period. Colonies of <6-cm height were significantly less fertile than colonies >12 cm, thus the recommendation of this study is that a minimum height should be incorporated into fishing regulations. The six studied populations at the Costa Brava showed a comparable reproductive potential, which demonstrates little variability within the homogenous population structure and range of size classes (due to overharvesting) found at the Costa Brava. The study of reproductive output is an important tool for ecosystem management, and this work recommends basing specific exploitation laws for distinctive populations on colony size, which is found to have a larger effect on reproductive potential than mesoscale variability.
Octocorallia (Soft Corals)
Spain - Mediterranean Sea
SCUBA (open-circuit or unspecified)