Transitions in coral reef accretion rates linked to intrinsic ecological shifts on turbid-zone nearshore reefs
Geological Society of America
© The Authors. Gold Open Access: This paper is published under the terms of the CC-BY license.
Nearshore coral communities within turbid settings are typically perceived to have limited reef-building capacity. However, several recent studies have reported reef growth over millennial time scales within such environments and have hypothesized that depth-variable community assemblages may act as equally important controls on reef growth as they do in clear-water settings. Here, we explicitly test this idea using a newly compiled chronostratigraphic record (31 cores, 142 radiometric dates) from seven proximal (but discrete) nearshore coral reefs located along the central Great Barrier Reef (Australia). Uniquely, these reefs span distinct stages of geomorphological maturity, as reflected in their elevations below sea level. Integrated age-depth and ecological data sets indicate that contemporary coral assemblage shifts, associated with changing light availability and wave exposure as reefs shallowed, coincided with transitions in accretion rates at equivalent core depths. Reef initiation followed a regional ∼1 m drop in sea level (1200–800 calibrated yr B.P.) which would have lowered the photic floor and exposed new substrate for coral recruitment by winnowing away fine seafloor sediments. We propose that a two-way feedback mechanism exists where past growth history influences current reef morphology and ecology, ultimately driving future reef accumulation and morphological change. These findings provide the first empirical evidence that nearshore reef growth trajectories are intrinsically driven by changes in coral community structure as reefs move toward sea level, a finding of direct significance for predicting the impacts of extrinsically driven ecological change (e.g., coral-algal phase shifts) on reef growth potential within the wider coastal zone on the Great Barrier Reef.
This work was supported by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) grant NE/J023329/1 to Perry and Smithers and NERC Radiocarbon Dating Allocations 1727.1013 and 1838.1014 to Morgan, Perry, and Gulliver.
This is the final version of the article. Available from the Geological Society of America via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 44 (12), pp. 995-998