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Early life history of the Mediterranean gorgonian Paramuricea clavata: implications for population dynamics



Abstract. Knowledge about early stages of marine sessile invertebrates dispersing by means of free-swimming propagules is fundamental toward understanding their population biology. In this study, we describe and quantify survivorship of early stages of the gorgonian Paramuricea clavata to contribute to the understanding of their implications on population dynamics of this emblematic species of the Mediterranean hard-bottom communities. Spawning was recorded in June for the 3 years studied (2001–2003). High levels of fertilization rate were observed during the main spawning in 2001 and 2002 (62–69%). This appears to be related to the surface brooding mode of development, synchronous spawning, and high fecundity of the species. The timing of development of the blastulae was ∼24 h and the planulae appeared after 48–72 h. In the laboratory, metamorphosis into polyp started between 8 and 25 d, but this timing may have been delayed by lack of unknown appropriate cues for settlement. The behavior of first developed planulae exhibited a marked negative phototaxis that may be a strategy to avoid competition with fast-growing algae on photophilous habitats. Despite the high fertilization rate in P. clavata, laboratory and field experiences indicate that survivorship through the planulae and polyp stages was very low, given that none of the settled polyps survived for >7 months in both experimental years. The low survival of the early stages may help explain the low recruitment rates observed in the field in addition to indicating major limitations for colonization of new areas and for persistence of the local population under disturbances.