Feasibility of age determination of deep-water bamboo corals (Gorgonacea; Isididae) from annual cycles in skeletal composition

Ronald E. Thresher*, Colin M. MacRae, Nick C. Wilson, Stewart Fallon

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)


    We test two hypotheses, that annual environmental cycles produce periodic variability in the skeletal composition of deep-water gorgonians, and that these cycles can be counted to determine the coral's age. Annual periodicity of deposition was tested by comparing the internode composition of bamboo corals live-collected 10 years apart in the Southern Ocean. The validity of the comparison was substantiated by growth rates for the 10-year interval (77-121 μm/yr) that were confirmed by radiocarbon analysis. Variability in Mg/Ca and possibly S/Ca, but not Sr/Ca or P/Ca, was consistent with annual cycles of deposition. However, spectral analysis of Mg/Ca data for a larger coral showed little or no spectral peak associated with an annual cycle of deposition (though there were peaks at periods of 4-5 and 11-15 years). The absence of an annual peak is likely to reflect growth rates that vary over time, coral cross-sections that change shape over time, and interannual differences in the seasonal range of environmental variability. The resulting subjectivity in what defines an annulus, along with evidence that the nature and extent of annual periodicity differs among sites, means that the technique is likely to be inherently imprecise and to require independent validation for each site and taxon before it can be applied.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)442-449
    Number of pages8
    JournalDeep-Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


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