Palaeoecological records of coral community development on a turbid, nearshore reef complex: baselines for assessing ecological change

Johnson, J.A., Perry, C.T., Smithers, S.G., Morgan, K.M., Santodomingo, N., and Johnson, K.G. (2017) Palaeoecological records of coral community development on a turbid, nearshore reef complex: baselines for assessing ecological change. Coral Reefs, 36 (3). pp. 685-700.

PDF (Publilshed Version) - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (3MB) | Preview
View at Publisher Website:


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.

Item ID: 50283
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: ecological baselines, European settlement, Great Barrier Reef, inner shelf, palaeoecology, water quality
Additional Information:

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, 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.

Funders: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Projects and Grants: NERC NE/J023329/1
Date Deposited: 20 Sep 2017 07:33
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 50%
37 EARTH SCIENCES > 3708 Oceanography > 370803 Physical oceanography @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9699 Other Environment > 969902 Marine Oceanic Processes (excl. Climate Related) @ 100%
Downloads: Total: 981
Last 12 Months: 15
More Statistics

Actions (Repository Staff Only)

Item Control Page Item Control Page