Understanding growth and age of red tree corals (Primnoa pacifica) in the North Pacific Ocean
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Understanding growth and age of red tree corals (Primnoa pacifica) in the North Pacific Ocean
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    Plos One, 15(12)
Filetype[PDF-1.65 MB]

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    Massive, long-lived deep-sea red tree corals (Primnoa pacifica) form a solid, layered axis comprised of calcite and gorgonin skeleton. They are abundant on the outer continental shelf and upper slope of the Northeast Pacific, providing habitat for fish and invertebrates. Yet, their large size and arborescent morphology makes them susceptible to disturbance from fishing activities. A better understanding of their growth patterns will facilitate in-situ estimates of population age structure and biomass. Here, we evaluated relationships between ages, growth rates, gross morphological characteristics, and banding patterns in 11 colonies collected from depths of ~141–335 m off the Alaskan coast. These corals ranged in age from 12 to 80 years old. They grew faster radially (0.33–0.74 mm year-1) and axially (2.41–6.39 cm year-1) than in previously measured older colonies, suggesting that growth in P. pacifica declines slowly with age, and that basal diameter and axial height eventually plateau. However, since coral morphology correlated with age in younger colonies (< century), we developed an in-situ age estimation technique for corals from the Northeast Pacific Ocean providing a non-invasive method for evaluating coral age without removing colonies from the population. Furthermore, we determined that annual bands provided the most accurate means for determining coral age in live-collected corals, relative to radiometric dating. Taken together, this work provides insight into P. pacifica growth patterns to inform coastal managers about the demographics of this ecologically important species. With this new ability to estimate the age of red tree corals in-situ, we can readily determine the age-class structure and consequently, the maturity status of thickets, using non-invasive video survey techniques when coupled with mensuration systems such as lasers or stereo-cameras. Enhanced surveys could identify which populations are most vulnerable to disturbance from human activities, and which should be highlighted for protection.
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