Palaeoecological records of coral community development on a turbid, nearshore reef complex: baselines for assessing ecological change
Springer Verlag for International Society for Reef Studies
© The Author(s) 2017. Open Access. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Understanding past coral community development and reef growth is crucial for placing contemporary ecological and environmental change within appropriate reef-building timescales. On Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR), coral reefs situated within coastal inner-shelf zones are a particular priority. This is due to their close proximity to river point sources, and therefore susceptibility to reduced water quality discharged from coastal catchments, many of which have been modified following European settlement (ca. 1850 AD). However, the extent of water-quality decline and its impacts on the GBR’s inner-shelf reefs remain contentious. In this study, palaeoecological coral assemblage records were developed for five proximal coral reefs situated within a nearshore turbid-zone reef complex on the central GBR. A total of 29 genera of Scleractinia were identified from the palaeoecological inventory of the reef complex, with key contributions to reef-building made by Acropora, Montipora, and Turbinaria. Discrete intervals pre- and post-dating European settlement, but associated with equivalent water depths, were identified using Bayesian age–depth modelling, enabling investigation of competing ideas of the main drivers of nearshore coral assemblage change. Specifically, we tested the hypotheses that changes in the composition of nearshore coral assemblages are: (1) intrinsically driven and linked to vertical reef development towards sea level, and (2) the result of changes in water quality associated with coastal river catchment modification. Our records found no discernible evidence of change in the generic composition of coral assemblages relative to European settlement. Instead, two distinctive depth-stratified assemblages were identified. This study demonstrates the robust nature of nearshore coral communities under reported water-quality decline and provides a useful context for the monitoring and assessment of ecological change on reefs located within the most nearshore turbid-zone environments of the central GBR.
We thank the crew of the R.V. James Kirby for their support and assistance during fieldwork, and J. Daniell for his assistance with core recovery. Field research was supported by a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Grant (NE/J023329/1) to CTP and SGS, and radiocarbon dating of the core samples through NERC Radiocarbon Dating Allocations 1727.1013 and 1838.1014 to CTP and KMM. Fieldwork was conducted under GBRMPA research permit G13/36076.1. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions that greatly improved this manuscript
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Springer Verlag via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 36 (3), pp. 685–700
Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as © The Author(s) 2017. Open Access. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.