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Overview on the distribution of gorgonian species in Tunisian marine coastal waters (central Mediterranean)
Raouia Ghanem, Emna Soufi Kechaou, Jamila Ben Souissi, Joaquim Garrabou

Gorgonian species play an important ecological role in the structure and function of marine communities. Human activities are negatively affecting the conservation status of gorgonian populations in the Mediterranean. Acquiring knowledge of gorgonian distribution is therefore a key step required to promote efficient management and conservation actions. However, information on the distribution of gorgonian species is lacking in many Mediterranean areas. This study aimed to provide an overview of the geographic and bathymetric distributions of gorgonians in the coastal waters of the Tunisian coast (1136 km). The sampling design encompassed three sectors, 27 localities and 87 sites. Information was collected from scuba diving (26 sites) and local ecological knowledge surveys of fishermen and divers (132 interviews), as well as from a literature review. Overall, the occurrence of eight gorgonians was confirmed at 54 out of the 87 sites surveyed in Tunisian coastal waters (7-120 m depth). The species that were found were Eunicella singularis, Eunicella cavolini, Paramuricea clavata, Paramuricea macrospina, Leptogorgia sarmentosa, Eunicella verrucosa, Corallium rubrum and Ellisella paraplexauroides. The highest gorgonian species richness and abundance was recorded in northern, followed by eastern Tunisian waters. In the southern areas only one species was recorded. This pattern was related to the rocky substrate that characterizes the northern and eastern coasts of Tunisia. This study is the first to report the occurrence of E. singularis, E. cavolini, E. verrucosa and Leptogorgia sarmentosa in northern and eastern Tunisian waters. The results are discussed in the hope of guiding future conservation and management actions for gorgonian assemblages in Tunisia.

Keywords: sea fans; coralligenous; octocorals; scientific diving; Tunisia; local ecological knowledge; conservation
Contents of this volume Sci. Mar. 82(1) : 55-66 Back PDF
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