The Mediterranean stony coral Cladocora caespitosa is a well-known habitat builder similar to the typical tropical reef-building corals, and as such it is supposed to host a diversified faunal assemblage.

This study investigated the biodiversity associated to C. caespitosa at three levels: microscale, focused on microbenthic invertebrates within colonies; mesoscale, focused on epibenthic megafauna among colonies, and macroscale, focused on ichthyofauna. The aim was to quantify associated diversity testing the efficiency of colony size, density and total coverage, depending on the scales assessed, as predictors and the consistency of models based on Species-Are Relationship (SAR) for those estimations.

The results confirm the important role of C. caespitosa as a habitat builder. In total about 300 taxa were recorded associated to the coral colonies. It was found as well that the relationship between the coral and the associated fauna was stronger at the level of microscale and weaker at the level of macroscale.

The authors highlight that the finding of rare and very poorly known species among the invertebrates associated with C. caespitosa shows how the present knowledge is still limited and how the loss of this precious habitat builder could negatively affect certain species before they are fully known or even yet discovered.

Pitacco et al. (2019) Species-Area Relationship (SAR) models as tools for estimating faunal biodiversity associated with habitat builder species in sensitive areas: the case of the Mediterranean stony coral (Cladocora caespitosa). Marine Environmental Research 149:27-39.