Seasonal and local spatial patterns in the upper thermal limits of corals on the inshore Central Great Barrier Reef

Berkelmans, R., and Willis, B.L. (1999) Seasonal and local spatial patterns in the upper thermal limits of corals on the inshore Central Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs, 18 (3). pp. 219-228.

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Experimental studies of the upper thermal limits of corals from Orpheus Island, an inshore reef in the central Great Barrier Reef, show that Acropora formosa has a 5-day 50%-bleaching threshold of between 31 and 32 °C in summer, only 2 to 3 °C higher than local mean summer temperatures (29 °C). Summer bleaching thresholds for Pocillopora damicornis and A. elseyi were 1 °C higher (between 32 and 33 °C). The winter bleaching threshold of Pocillopora damicornis was 1 °C lower than its summer threshold, indicating that seasonal acclimatisation may take place. This seasonal difference raises the possibility that at least some corals may be capable of short-term thermal acclimatisation. Neither P. damicornis nor A. elseyi showed habitat-specific (reef flat versus reef slope) differences in bleaching thresholds. Further, colonies of P. damicornis collected from sites 3 km apart also showed no difference in bleaching threshold despite populations of this species responding differently at these two sites during a natural bleaching event. The bleaching thresholds determined in this study are best considered as the maximum tolerable temperatures for local populations of these species because they were determined in the absence of additional stressors (e.g. high light) which often co-occur during natural bleaching events. We consider the 5-day 50% bleaching thresholds determined in these experiments to be fair indicators of upper thermal limits, because >50% of a sample population died when allowed to recover in situ. We found a delay of up to a month in the bleaching response of corals following thermal stress, a result that has implications for identifying the timing of stressful conditions in natural bleaching events.

Item ID: 27437
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: coral bleaching; temperature; acclimatisation; upper thermal limit
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2013 02:41
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970105 Expanding Knowledge in the Environmental Sciences @ 100%
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