Abstract

U-series age patterns obtained on reef framework–forming cold-water corals collected over a nearly 6000-km-long continental margin sector, extending from off Mauritania (17°N; northwest Africa) to the southwestern Barents Sea (70°N; northeastern Europe), reveal strong climate influences on the geographical distribution and sustained development of these ecosystems. Over the past three glacial-interglacial cycles, framework-forming cold-water corals (Lophelia pertusa and Madrepora oculata) seem to have predominantly populated reefs, canyons, and patches in the temperate East Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea. Above 50°N corals colonize reefs in the northern East Atlantic primarily during warm climate periods with the biogeographic limit advancing from ∼50°N to ∼70°N. We propose that north-south oscillations of the biogeographic limit of reef developments are paced by ice ages and may occur synchronously with north-south displacement of cold nutrient-rich intermediate waters and surface productivity related to changes of the polar front.

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