Identifying overlooked octocoral habitat

Using distribution modelling to identify marine sites for further investigation and conservation

Data resources used via GBIF : 114 species occurrences
Violescent sea-whip (Paramuricea clavata)

Violescent sea-whip (Paramuricea clavata) photographed by Ronald Werson off the coast of Tuscany. Photo licensed under CC BY-NC-NC 4.0.

The violescent sea-whip (Paramuricea clavata) is a sensitive, but important structuring octocoral species in the Mediterranean and adjacent Atlantic, threatened by fishing, recreational diving, pollution and climate change. Little is known about the habitat requirements of the sea-whip and the factors limiting its distribution.

A study aimed at increasing knowledge of P. clavata compiled all currently known occurrences from GBIF and other sources, and added new underwater survey records to model the ecological niche of the species. The full distribution was best explained by ocean temperatures and, in particular, slope. When restricting the suitable habitat to hard bottom areas, where larvae are more likely to settle, the researchers estimated a total area of 36,000 km2, consistent with known occurrences, but also identifying novel areas including Algeria, Alboran Sea and Atlantic coasts.

The study provides new insights into the potential distribution of an important octocoral species and suggests sites as targets for further investigation and, potentially, conservation.

Boavida J, Assis J, Silva I and Serrão EA (2016) Overlooked habitat of a vulnerable gorgonian revealed in the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic by ecological niche modelling. Scientific Reports. Springer Nature 6(1). Available at: