2008, Jan. 17-18: Cold-water Coral Ecosystems in a Changing World, Ghent, Belgium

FP7 Preparatory Workshop on Cold-Water Corals and Carbonate Mounds


1998-2008: 10 years of EC-supported cold-water coral and mound research
Cold-water Coral Ecosystems in a Changing World

Gent, Belgium, 17-18 January 2008


The scientific community present at the Ghent meeting identified the study of the functioning of coral geo-ecosystems in terms of the interaction between multiple biological capacities of different species as some of the most prominent research challenges to be addressed in order to better understand the formation of large cold water coral reefs, the maintenance of their biodiversity and their reaction to climate change.

Within the proposed cross-cutting themes major issues for coral ecosystems address:


  • Biological capacity of marine organisms
  • Ecosystem distribution and interconnection
  • Biodiversity supporting ecosystem function

The most suitable approach to address these topics involves an integrated combination of ecosystem modelling, mesocosm coral community experiments, molecular microbiology, (in-situ) habitat mapping and environmental studies. The key elements to achieve this study are:
  1. a better knowledge of the cold-water coral life cycle through studies of coral larvae studies (that are crucial to dispersal and interconnectivity);
  2. barcoding and population genetics of the corals and associated species (quantifying gene flow);
  3. strengthening the knowledge base, (where possible) quantifying and modelling, of the spatially and temporally variable link between environmental conditions (oceanography, nutrient supply, sediment supply) and coral reef growth;
  4. investigating and modelling the biological capacities of the cold-water coral reef framework itself, especially its provision of settling space, refuges for associated species, as well as the capacities of associated fauna (secondary production, bio-erosion);
  5. assessing microbial diversity and its contributions to nutrient fluxes and diagenetic processes

These key elements are intricately interconnected in space and time and involve very different types of organisms such as macrofauna and microbes. Their presence and (inter)action take place in the living coral zone and the different layers of coarse and fine coral rubble underneath. This kind of integration will advance our comprehension of (i) the present-day cold-water coral ecosystem biodiversity, (ii) the basic functioning of a cold-water coral ecosystem, (iii) the bio-geological past of these complex systems, (iv) the response of biodiversity-biological capacity relations to perturbations such as (a) future environmental change and (b) anthropogenic impacts.