Life history and viability of a long-lived marine invertebrate: the octocoral Paramuricea clavata.
The red gorgonian Paramuricea clavata is a long-lived, slow-growing sessile invertebrate of ecological and conservation importance in the northwestern Mediterranean Sea. We develop a series of size-based matrix models for two Paramuricea clavata populations. These models were used to estimate basic life history traits for this species and to evaluate the viability of the red gorgonian populations we studied. As for many other slow-growing species, sensitivity and elasticity analysis demonstrate that gorgonian population growth is far more sensitive to changes in survival rates than to growth, shrinkage, or reproductive rates. The slow growth and low mortality of red gorgonians results in low damping ratios, indicating slow convergence to stable size structures (at least 50 years). The stable distributions predicted by the model did not differ from the observed ones. However, our simulations point out the fragility of this species, showing both populations in decline and high risk of extinction over moderate time horizons. These declines appear to be related to a recent increase in anthropogenic disturbances. Relative to their life span, the values of recruitment elasticity for Paramuricea clavata are lower than those reported for other marine organisms but are similar to those reported for some long-lived plants. These values and the delayed age of sexual maturity, in combination with the longevity of the species, show a clear fecundity/mortality trade-off. Full demographic studies of sessile marine species are quite scarce but can provide insight into population dynamics and life history patterns for these difficult and under-studied species. While our work shows clear results for the red gorgonian, the variability in some of our estimates suggest that future work should include data collection over longer temporal and spatial scales to better understand the long-term effects of natural and anthropogenic disturbances on red gorgonian populations.