Corals of the Aleutian Islands




A unique feature of the benthic habitat in the Aleutian Islands is the presence of a highly diverse and abundant coral and sponge community. These communities likely provide important habitat for a variety of fish and invertebrate species. Summaries of historical data and recent direct observations with a submersible indicate that the Aleutian Islands may harbour the highest diversity and abundance of coldwater corals in the world. There are 69 documented taxa (species and subspecies) of coral in the Aleutians of which 25 are endemic. Within the Aleutian Islands, there is an increase in diversity of corals west of about longitude 169°W. This shift in diversity is consistent with the hypothesis of an ecological boundary in the vicinity of Samalga Pass. Given the endemism and high diversity and abundance of corals in the Aleutians, there is evidence that this region is the evolutionary centre of origin for some taxa of coldwater corals.