A guide to the corals of Alaska

Robert P. Stone, Stephen D. Cairns, Dennis M. Opresko, Gary C. Williams, and Michele M. Masuda

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006 mandat­ed the research and management of the nation’s deep-sea coral resources through establishment of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administra­tion’s Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program. The challenge for Alaska was daunting, where expansive, world-class fisheries often coincided with extraordinarily rich coral habitats for a high-latitude region. The first chal­lenge was to inventory known locations of deep-sea corals. Many coral records and some museum collections existed from Alaska, but the taxonomy of cor­als was little studied and field iden­tification of corals was problematic. Formal bycatch programs and research activities in recent decades provided many more specimens for taxonomic study, but guides to species were largely incomplete, inaccurate, and outdated given the fast pace of species discovery in Alaska. We provide a comprehen­sive, up-to-date guide, detailing 161 coral taxa identified from museum collections, primary literature, and video records. Each profile includes a description, images for each taxon, taxonomic history, biology, ecology, geographical distribution, and habitat, including depth distribution. Corals are found in the six regions of Alaska but the coral fauna of the Aleutian Islands is by far the most species rich. The state of taxonomy for some coral groups is ex­cellent, while others require additional collections and more taxonomic work. Construction of this guide resulted in descriptions of several antipatharian species, published separately from this guide (Alternatipathes mirabilis, Bathypathes alaskensis, B. ptiloides, B. tiburonae, and Parantipathes pluma) and the scleractinian Flabellum (Flabel­lum) oclairi Cairns, sp. nov. described herein. The guide provides informa­tion for targeting new collections and identifying areas of high abundance and indicator species of vulnerable marine ecosystems. Stakeholders can now more adequately assess Alaska’s coral resources and risks from natural and anthropogenic stressors.

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