Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems in the Eastern Tropical Pacific: The current state of knowledge and the spatial variability of their depth boundaries

Miguel Ángel Pérez-Castro*, Nadine Schubert, Gabriela Ang-Montes de Oca, Gerardo Esteban Leyte-Morales, Gal Eyal, Gustavo Hinojosa-Arango

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP), Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems (MCEs) are limited by oceanographic conditions and are thought to be mostly absent. However, considering the currently discussed more flexible approach to define mesophotic boundaries, based on light availability, we performed a systematic search to assess their current state of knowledge. Using MODIS-Aqua satellite data (Kd490), we calculated the mesophotic boundaries in the ETP, based on optical depths, and performed a bibliographic search of studies carried out at those depths, including those present in turbid waters with KdPAR values up to 0.2 m-1. Seventy-seven papers on MCEs research were compiled in this review, recording a total of 138 species. The studies focus almost exclusively on taxonomy, ecosystem function, and reviews, indicating the need for future research regarding aspects, such as structuring environmental variables, molecular ecology, and natural resource management. Furthermore, remote sensing data show that there exists a high spatial variability of water transparency in the ETP, resulting in significant differences in KdPAR between oceanic and continental locations, mostly related to the occurrence of seasonal upwelling in the latter. Based on KdPAR, we estimated the mesophotic depth boundaries (z10%, z1%, z0.1%) for specific locations within the ETP and found that MCEs can potentially occur as shallow as 13-15 m in coastal regions. Also, we compared the calculated boundaries with the respective deepest records of light-dependent corals. With one exception, the presence of the corals was restricted to the upper mesophotic subzone (z10%-z1%), which agrees with reports for other regions, showing that light availability is one of the main drivers for the bathymetric distribution of MCEs and can be used as a first approach to identify their potential presence, though other local factors (e.g., geomorphology, temperature, internal waves) should also be considered, as they can cause shifts in depth limits.

Original languageEnglish
Article number150576
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Distribution
  • Light attenuation coefficient
  • Macroalgae
  • Remote sensing
  • Shallow mesophotic coral ecosystems
  • Upwelling


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