National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2014

Predictive models of coral and sponge distribution, abundance and diversity in bottom trawl surveys of the Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Rooper, C.N., M. Zimmermann, M.M. Prescott, and A.J. Hermann

Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser., 503, 157–176, doi: 10.3354/meps10710 (2014)

Ecosystem management requires information to determine and mitigate adverse impacts of fishing on all ecosystem components. Deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems often co‑occur with fishing activities, and there is considerable research documenting the vulnerability and slow recovery of deep-sea coral and sponge communities to damage. The objective of the present analysis was to construct models that could predict the distribution, abundance and diversity of deep sea corals and sponges in the Aleutian Islands. Generalized additive models were constructed based on bottom trawl survey data collected from 1991 to 2011 and tested on data from 2012. The results showed that deep-sea coral and sponge distributions were strongly influenced by the maximum tidal currents at bottom trawl locations, possibly indicative of reduced sedimentation or increased food-delivery processes near the seafloor in areas of moderate to high current. Depth and location were also important factors affecting the distribution of deep-sea sponges and corals. The analysis resulted in acceptable models of presence or absence for all taxonomic groups and similar fits when models were applied to test data. The best-fitting models of abundance explained between 20 and 25% of the deviance in the abundance data. Current management protects ~50% of the coral and sponge habitat in the Aleutian Islands at depths to 500 m. The models constructed here will allow managers to evaluate ecological versus economic benefits between protecting coral and sponge habitat and allowing commercial fishing by examining the effect of spatial closures on the amount of coral and sponge habitat that is protected.

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