Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Rhodolith research in the Gulf of California: Disturbance and recovery of reefs that rock and roll

Diana Steller, Ph.D.
 Moss Landing Marine Laboratories

Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Pacific Forum – 3:00 p.m.

Rhodoliths are unattached, branching, crustose coralline red algae that create biogenic habitat for diverse benthic communities. Living rhodolith beds are widely distributed throughout the Gulf of California, Mexico. Due to increasing anthropogenic disturbances to benthic communities, this study examined the disturbance and recovery potential of these habitats through understanding growth, population biology, and community ecology of rhodoliths in the Gulf of California. The slow growth rates of the common species, Lithophyllum margaritae (5.7±0.7 mm yr -1) and Spongites trichotomum (7.7±1.1mm yr -1) suggest slow population recovery times. Surveys reveal that rhodolith beds support a community higher in biodiversity and abundance relative to sandy bottoms. Ecological studies on the catarina scallop, Argopecten ventricosus, indicate that this habitat can enhance populations of associated species through increased recruitment of species with pelagic larvae and acting as a refuge. Rhodoliths and the extensive carbonate sediments that they produce are prominent features in the Pleistocene and Plieocene fossil deposits around the gulf, suggesting that these beds have long been important marine features. The isotopic signatures within the coralline thalli indicate that they may be important palaeoindicators of global climate change.

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