Hydrography and food distribution during a tidal cycle above a cold-water coral mound

Evert De Froe*, Sandra R. Maier, Henriette G. Horn, George A. Wolff, Sabena Blackbird, Christian Mohn, Mads Schultz, Anna-Selma van der Kaaden, Chiu H. Cheng, Evi Wubben, Britt van Haastregt, Eva Friis Moller, Marc Lavaleye, Karline Soetaert, Gert-Jan Reichart, Dick van Oevelen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Cold-water corals (CWCs) are important ecosystem engineers in the deep sea that provide habitat for numerous species and can form large coral mounds. These mounds influence surrounding currents and induce distinct hydrodynamic features, such as internal waves and episodic downwelling events that accelerate transport of organic matter towards the mounds, supplying the corals with food. To date, research on organic matter distribution at coral mounds has focussed either on seasonal timescales or has provided single point snapshots. Data on food distribution at the timescale of a diurnal tidal cycle is currently limited. Here, we integrate physical, biogeochemical, and biological data throughout the water column and along a transect on the south-eastern slope of Rockall Bank, Northeast Atlantic Ocean. This transect consisted of 24-h sampling stations at four locations: Bank, Upper slope, Lower slope, and the Oreo coral mound. We investigated how the organic matter distribution in the water column along the transect is affected by tidal activity. Repeated CTD casts indicated that the water column above Oreo mound was more dynamic than above other stations in multiple ways. First, the bottom water showed high variability in physical parameters and nutrient concentrations, possibly due to the interaction of the tide with the mound topography. Second, in the surface water a diurnal tidal wave replenished nutrients in the photic zone, supporting new primary production. Third, above the coral mound an internal wave (200 m amplitude) was recorded at 400 m depth after the turning of the barotropic tide. After this wave passed, high quality organic matter was recorded in bottom waters on the mound coinciding with shallow water physical characteristics such as high oxygen concentration and high temperature. Trophic markers in the benthic community suggest feeding on a variety of food sources, including phytodetritus and zooplankton. We suggest that there are three transport mechanisms that supply food to the CWC ecosystem. First, small phytodetritus particles are transported downwards to the seafloor by advection from internal waves, supplying high quality organic matter to the CWC reef community. Second, the shoaling of deeper nutrient-rich water into the surface water layer above the coral mound could stimulate diatom growth, which form fast-sinking aggregates. Third, evidence from lipid analysis indicates that zooplankton faecal pellets also enhance supply of organic matter to the reef communities. This study is the first to report organic matter quality and composition over a tidal cycle at a coral mound and provides evidence that fresh high-quality organic matter is transported towards a coral reef during a tidal cycle.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103854
JournalDeep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


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