Mesophotic coral reef ecosystems remain largely unexplored with only limited information available on taxonomic composition, abundance and distribution. Yet, mesophotic reefs may serve as potential refugia for shallow-water species and thus understanding biodiversity, ecology and connectivity of deep reef communities is integral for resource management and conservation. The Caribbean coral, Montastraea cavernosa, is considered a depth generalist and is commonly found at mesophotic depths. We surveyed abundance and size-frequency of M. cavernosa populations at six shallow (10m) and six upper mesophotic (45m) sites in Bermuda and found population structure was depth dependent. The mean surface area of colonies at mesophotic sites was significantly smaller than at shallow sites, suggesting that growth rates and maximum colony surface area are limited on mesophotic reefs. Colony density was significantly higher at mesophotic sites, however, resulting in equal contributions to overall percent cover. Size-frequency distributions between shallow and mesophotic sites were also significantly different with populations at mesophotic reefs skewed towards smaller individuals. Overall, the results of this study provide valuable baseline data on population structure, which indicate that the mesophotic reefs of Bermuda support an established population of M. cavernosa.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0142427