Variable responses of benthic communities to anomalously warm sea temperatures on a high-latitude coral reef

Bridge, Thomas C.L., Ferrari, Renata, Bryson, Mitch, Hovey, Renae, Figueira, Will F., Williams, Stefan B., Pizarro, Oscar, Harborne, Alastair R., and Byrne, Maria (2014) Variable responses of benthic communities to anomalously warm sea temperatures on a high-latitude coral reef. PLoS ONE, 9 (11). pp. 1-20.

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Abstract

High-latitude reefs support unique ecological communities occurring at the biogeographic boundaries between tropical and temperate marine ecosystems. Due to their lower ambient temperatures, they are regarded as potential refugia for tropical species shifting poleward due to rising sea temperatures. However, acute warming events can cause rapid shifts in the composition of high-latitude reef communities, including range contractions of temperate macroalgae and bleaching induced mortality in corals. While bleaching has been reported on numerous high latitude reefs, post-bleaching trajectories of benthic communities are poorly described. Consequently, the longer-term effects of thermal anomalies on high latitude reefs are difficult to predict. Here, we use an autonomous underwater vehicle to conduct repeated surveys of three 625 m2 plots on a coral-dominated high-latitude reef in the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia, over a four year period spanning a large-magnitude thermal anomaly. Quantification of benthic communities revealed high coral cover (.70%, comprising three main morphospecies) prior to the bleaching event. Plating Montipora was most susceptible to bleaching, but in the plot where it was most abundant, coral cover did not change significantly because of post-bleaching increases in branching Acropora. In the other two plots, coral cover decreased while macroalgal cover increased markedly. Overall, coral cover declined from 73% to 59% over the course of the study, while macroalgal cover increased from 11% to 24%. The significant differences in impacts and post-bleaching trajectories among plots underline the importance of understanding the underlying causes of such variation to improve predictions of how climate change will affect reefs, especially at high-latitudes.

Item ID: 36566
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Additional Information:

© 2014 Bridge et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ISSN: 1932-6203
Funders: Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF), Australian Government, Australian Research Council (ARC), Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS), National Environmental Research Program (NERP)
Projects and Grants: GBRF Resilient Coral Reefs Successfully Adapting to Climate Change Program
Date Deposited: 27 Nov 2014 04:10
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 50%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0501 Ecological Applications > 050101 Ecological Impacts of Climate Change @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960507 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Marine Environments @ 75%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9603 Climate and Climate Change > 960305 Ecosystem Adaptation to Climate Change @ 25%
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