Mesophotic coral ecosystems are threatened and ecologically distinct from shallow water reefs

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Science  20 Jul 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6399, pp. 281-284
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq1614

Deep coral reefs are different

Coral reefs are under intense pressure from anthropogenically induced climate warming and habitat destruction. It has been suggested that coral reefs in deeper waters may provide a refuge less affected by human development and climate change. Rocha et al., however, show that shallow and deep reefs are biologically different. Furthermore, deep (or mesophotic) reefs are also suffering from human impacts. Thus, deep reefs do not represent a potential refuge for other reef ecosystems. Indeed, they too are threatened and need protection.

Science, this issue p. 281


The rapid degradation of coral reefs is one of the most serious biodiversity problems facing our generation. Mesophotic coral reefs (at depths of 30 to 150 meters) have been widely hypothesized to provide refuge from natural and anthropogenic impacts, a promise for the survival of shallow reefs. The potential role of mesophotic reefs as universal refuges is often highlighted in reef conservation research. This hypothesis rests on two assumptions: (i) that there is considerable overlap in species composition and connectivity between shallow and deep populations and (ii) that deep reefs are less susceptible to anthropogenic and natural impacts than their shallower counterparts. Here we present evidence contradicting these assumptions and argue that mesophotic reefs are distinct, impacted, and in as much need of protection as shallow coral reefs.

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