Selection of mesophotic habitats by Oculina patagonica in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea following global warming

Stephane Martinez, Jessica Bellworthy, Christine Ferrier-Pagès, Tali Mass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Globally, species are migrating in an attempt to track optimal isotherms as climate change increasingly warms existing habitats. Stony corals are severely threatened by anthropogenic warming, which has resulted in repeated mass bleaching and mortality events. Since corals are sessile as adults and with a relatively old age of sexual maturity, they are slow to latitudinally migrate, but corals may also migrate vertically to deeper, cooler reefs. Herein we describe vertical migration of the Mediterranean coral Oculina patagonica from less than 10 m depth to > 30 m. We suggest that this range shift is a response to rapidly warming sea surface temperatures on the Israeli Mediterranean coastline. In contrast to the vast latitudinal distance required to track temperature change, this species has migrated deeper where summer water temperatures are up to 2 °C cooler. Comparisons of physiology, morphology, trophic position, symbiont type, and photochemistry between deep and shallow conspecifics revealed only a few depth-specific differences. At this study site, shallow colonies typically inhabit low light environments (caves, crevices) and have a facultative relationship with photosymbionts. We suggest that this existing phenotype aided colonization of the mesophotic zone. This observation highlights the potential for other marine species to vertically migrate.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number18134
Pages (from-to)18134
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - 13 Sep 2021


  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Anthozoa/anatomy & histology
  • Biodiversity
  • Calcification, Physiologic
  • Climate Change
  • Coral Reefs
  • Ecosystem
  • Global Warming
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Photochemical Processes
  • Seasons

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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