Scleractinian corals have a global distribution ranging from shallow tropical seas to the depths of the Southern Ocean. Although this distribution is indicative of the corals having a tolerance to a wide spectrum of environmental conditions, individual species seem to be restricted to a much narrower range of ecosystem variables. One way to ascertain the tolerances of corals, with particular focus on the potential impacts of changing climate, is to reconstruct their growth history across a range of environmental regimes. This study examines the spatial and temporal distribution of the solitary scleractinian corals Desmophyllum dianthus, Gardineria antarctica, Balanophyllia malouinensis, Caryophyllia spp. and Flabellum spp. from five sites in the Drake Passage which cross the major frontal zones. A rapid reconnaissance radiocarbon method was used to date more than 850 individual corals. Coupled with U-Th dating, an age range of present day back to more than 100 thousand years was established for corals in the region. Within this age range there are distinct changes in the temporal and spatial distributions of these corals, both with depth and latitude, and on millennial timescales. Two major patterns that emerge are: (1) D. dianthus populations show clear variability in their occurrence through time depending on the latitudinal position within the Drake Passage. North of the Subantarctic Front, D. dianthus first appears in the late deglaciation (~17,000 years ago) and persists to today. South of the Polar Front, in contrast, early deglacial periods, with a few modern occurrences. A seamount site between the two fronts exhibits characteristics similar to both the northern and southern sites. This shift across the frontal zones within one species cannot yet be fully explained, but it is likely to be linked to changes in surface productivity, subsurface oxygen concentrations, and carbonate saturation state. (2) at locations where multiple genera were dated, differences in age and depth distribution of the populations provide clear evidence that each genus has unique environmental requirements to sustain its population.
Additional Publication Details
Temporal and spatial distributions of cold-water corals in the Drake Passage: insights from the last 35,000 years
Deep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography