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Coral reef community composition in the context of disturbance history on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

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Graham, NAJ and Chong-Seng, KM and Huchery, C and Januchowski-Hartley, FA and Nash, KL (2014) Coral reef community composition in the context of disturbance history on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. PLoS ONE, 9 (7). e101204.

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Abstract

Much research on coral reefs has documented differential declines in coral and associated organisms. In order to contextualise this general degradation, research on community composition is necessary in the context of varied disturbance histories and the biological processes and physical features thought to retard or promote recovery. We conducted a spatial assessment of coral reef communities across five reefs of the central Great Barrier Reef, Australia, with known disturbance histories, and assessed patterns of coral cover and community composition related to a range of other variables thought to be important for reef dynamics. Two of the reefs had not been extensively disturbed for at least 15 years prior to the surveys. Three of the reefs had been severely impacted by crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks and coral bleaching approximately a decade before the surveys, from which only one of them was showing signs of recovery based on independent surveys. We incorporated wave exposure (sheltered and exposed) and reef zone (slope, crest and flat) into our design, providing a comprehensive assessment of the spatial patterns in community composition on these reefs. Categorising corals into life history groupings, we document major coral community differences in the unrecovered reefs, compared to the composition and covers found on the undisturbed reefs. The recovered reef, despite having similar coral cover, had a different community composition from the undisturbed reefs, which may indicate slow successional processes, or a different natural community dominance pattern due to hydrology and other oceanographic factors. The variables that best correlated with patterns in the coral community among sites included the density of juvenile corals, herbivore fish biomass, fish species richness and the cover of macroalgae. Given increasing impacts to the Great Barrier Reef, efforts to mitigate local stressors will be imperative to encouraging coral communities to persist into the future.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: coral reefs, herbivory, biomass, species diversity, community structure, corals, marine fish, bleaching
Journal or Publication Title: PLoS ONE
Page Range: e101204
Identification Number - DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101204
Date Deposited: 12 Apr 2016 00:45
Last Modified: 12 Apr 2016 00:45
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