Soft corals form aragonite-precipitated columnar spiculite in mesophotic reefs

Erez Shoham, Thomas Prohaska, Zahava Barkay, Andreas Zitek, Yehuda Benayahu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Surveys conducted in Eilat’s upper mesophotic coral ecosystem (MCE) revealed protruding columnar calcareous structures with a Sinularia octocoral colony growing atop of each. The current study addressed the hypothesis that these colonies produce spiculites, and sought to determine (a) the spatial occurrence and dimensions of the spiculite-forming colonies and their species affiliation; (b) their microstructural features; and (c) the elemental composition of the columnar spiculites in comparison to the sclerites of the colonies. All the spiculite-forming colonies were exclusively found in the upper MCEs and produced by S. vrijmoethi. This type of spiculite, including its elemental analysis, is reported here for the first time for coral reefs in general and for the MCE in particular. Examination of the spiculites by scanning electron microscopy and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy revealed spindle shaped-sclerites cemented by crystallites. The elemental composition of the sclerites differed from that of the cementing crystallites, in featuring ~8% Mg in the former and none in the latter. Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry revealed fragments of spiculite to be composed of 35% sclerites and 65% crystallites. X-ray powder diffraction analysis of individual sclerites indicated that they are composed exclusively of magnesium-calcite, and the spiculite fragments to also feature 9.3 ± 4% aragonite and 5–7% amorphous calcium carbonate. Consequently, it is proposed that the formation of the crystallites, which lithify the sclerites, is caused by a non-biogenic aragonite precipitation, and that the living colony might benefit from this protruding spiculite structure by means of enhanced exposure to water flow.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1241
JournalScientific Reports
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019

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