Mesophotic coral ecosystems are threatened and ecologically distinct from shallow water reefs

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Abstract

The rapid degradation of coral reefs is one of the most serious biodiversity problems facing our generation. Mesophotic coral reefs (at depths of 30 to 150 meters) have been widely hypothesized to provide refuge from natural and anthropogenic impacts, a promise for the survival of shallow reefs. The potential role of mesophotic reefs as universal refuges is often highlighted in reef conservation research. This hypothesis rests on two assumptions: (i) that there is considerable overlap in species composition and connectivity between shallow and deep populations and (ii) that deep reefs are less susceptible to anthropogenic and natural impacts than their shallower counterparts. Here we present evidence contradicting these assumptions and argue that mesophotic reefs are distinct, impacted, and in as much need of protection as shallow coral reefs.

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