Sediment generation by Halimeda on atoll interior coral reefs of the southern Maldives: a census-based approach for estimating carbonate production by calcareous green algae
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Methods for quantifying rates and size fractions of carbonate sand production on reefs remain limited, despite the urgent need for such data to support assessments of reef island and tropical beach-dominated shoreline resilience. Here we present a census-based approach that supports estimates of sediment generation by the calcareous green alga Halimeda spp., which is an often conspicuous reef and lagoon substrate coloniser. Based on data from Kandahalagala (South Huvadhoo atoll, southern Maldives), we present carbonate sediment production data for the two dominant Halimeda spp. (Halimeda macrophysa and Halimeda micronesica) that occur on the reef flat and reef slope habitats. Whilst total mean production rates by Halimeda spp. are similar in both habitats (reef flat average, 67.49 g CaCO3 m-2 yr-1; reef slope, 70.89 g), individual species contributions differ markedly. H. micronesica dominates on the reef flat (annual mean 41.91 g CaCO3 m-2 yr-1, compared to 25.08 g by H. macrophysa), whilst production is dominated by H. macrophysa on the reef slope (H. macrophysa 40.49 g, H. micronesica 29.01 g CaCO3 m-2 yr-1,). In terms of sediment generation we show that these species also contribute very differently to the sediment reservoir. Whilst the sedimentary breakdown products from H. micronesica are somewhat bimodal (~17% is in the medium to very coarse sand fraction, and ~76% in the silt and clay fraction), almost all (>90%) of the segments produced by H. macrophysa rapidly degrade to silt and clay sized sediment. Based on our census data this suggests that Halimeda spp. currently produce only between 7-9 g m-2 yr-1 of sand grade sediment on the reef flat and shallow slope habitats, but ~55-60 g m-2 yr-1 of mud grade sediment. Scaled to the total area of combined reef habitat around Kandahalagala (~130,583 m2) this equates to Halimeda spp. producing ~2,192 kg of sand-grade sediment, but ~15,181 kg of mud-grade sediment per year. However, sediment compositional data suggests that Halimeda sp. are actually a very minor constituent of reef and islands sediments, especially in the fine sediment fractions. This 1) suggests that much of the predominantly finer-grained sediment generated by Halimeda has little actual relevance to the later stages of reef island development, and 2) highlights the potential for marked discrepancies in terms of sediment generating reef species abundance and resultant sediment generation rates, especially in terms of the types and sizes of sediment that are appropriate to supply adjacent beaches and islands.
This work was supported through a Leverhulme Research Fellowship (RF-2015-152) to CTP, and by a Natural Environment Research Council grant (NE/K003143/1) to CTP. We thank Mohamed Aslam and staff at the LaMer Small Island Research Centre, Faaresmathooda for their invaluable help and assistance with field work and logistics. The comments of two anonymous reviewers greatly helped to improve the clarity of the text.
Vol. 346, December 2016, pp. 17–24