Soares, Marcelo de Oliveira ORCID:, Kitahara, Marcelo Visentini, Santos, Maria Eduarda Alves, Bejarano, Sonia ORCID:, Rabelo, Emanuelle Fontenele and Cruz, Igor Cristino Silva (2022) The flourishing and vulnerabilities of zoantharians on Southwestern Atlantic reefs. Marine Environmental Research, 173 . p. 105535. DOI

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In the Southwestern Atlantic reefs (SWA), some species of massive scleractinians and zoantharians are adapted to turbid waters, periodic desiccation, and sediment resuspension events. Moreover, phase shifts in this region have mostly been characterized by the emergence of algae and, less typically, zoantharians. However, nutrient excess and organic pollution are key drivers of the hard coral habitat degradation and may, thus, favor the emergence of novel zoantharian-dominated habitats. Many zoantharian species, particularly those from the genera Palythoa and Zoanthus, have traits that could help them thrive under conditions detrimental to reef-building corals, including rapid growth, several asexual reproduction strategies, high morphological plasticity, and generalist nutrient acquisition strategies. Thus, in a near future, stress-tolerant zoantharians may thrive in nutrient-enriched subtidal SWA locations under low heat stress, such as, upwelling. Overall, coral-zoantharian phase shifts in the SWA may decrease the species richness of reef communities, ultimately influencing ecosystem functioning and services, such as the provision of nursery habitats, fish biomass production, and coastline protection. However, zoantharians will also be threatened at intertidal zones, which are expected to experience higher heat stress, solar radiation, and sea-level rise. Although zoantharians appear to cope well with some local stressors (e.g., decreasing water quality), they are vulnerable to climate change (e.g., heatwaves), invasive species (Tubastraea spp.), microplastics, diseases, and mostly restricted to a narrow depth range (0–15 m depth) in SWA reefs. This shallow zone is particularly affected by climate change, compressing the three-dimensional habitat and limiting depth refugia in deeper SWA reefs. As mesophotic ecosystems have been hypothesized as short-term refuges to disturbances for some species, the narrow depth limit of zoantharians seems to be a potential factor that might increase their vulnerability to growing climate change pressures in SWA shallow-water reefs. Together, these could lead to both range expansions in some locations and loss of suitable reef habitats in other sites. Additional research is needed to better understand the systemic responses of these novel SWA reefs to the concert of increasing and interactive local and global stressors, and their implications for ecosystem functioning and service provisions.

Document Type: Article
Programme Area: PA2
Research affiliation: Ecology > Reef Systems
Affiliations > Not ZMT
Refereed: Yes
Open Access Journal?: No
DOI etc.:
ISSN: 01411136
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2022 09:51
Last Modified: 27 Jun 2022 09:51

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