Localised hydrodynamics influence vulnerability of coral communities to environmental disturbances

Shedrawi, George, Falter, James L., Friedman, Kim J., Lowe, Ryan J., Pratchett, Morgan S., Simpson, Christopher J., Speed, Conrad W., Wilson, Shaun K., and Zhang, Zhenlin (2017) Localised hydrodynamics influence vulnerability of coral communities to environmental disturbances. Coral Reefs, 36 (3). pp. 861-872.

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Abstract

The movement of water can have a significant influence on the vulnerability of hermatypic corals to environmental disturbances such as cyclone damage, heat stress and anoxia. Here, we explore the relationship between small reef-scale water circulation patterns and measured differences in the abundance, composition and vulnerability of coral assemblages over decades. Changes in coral cover and community structure within Bill's Bay (Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia) over a 22-yr period, during which multiple disturbance events (including mass bleaching, anoxia, and tropical cyclones) have impacted the area, were compared with spatial variation in water residence times (WRT). We found that reef sites associated with longer water residence times (WRT >15 h) experienced higher rates of coral mortality during acute environmental disturbances compared to reef sites with shorter WRT. Shifts in coral community composition from acroporid to faviid-dominated assemblages were also more prominent at sites with long WRT compared to reef sites with shorter WRT, although shifts in community composition were also observed at sites close to shore. Interestingly, these same long-WRT sites also tended to have the fastest recovery rates so that coral cover was returned to original levels of approximately 20% over two decades. This study provides empirical evidence that spatial patterns in water circulation and flushing can influence the resilience of coral communities, thus identifying areas sensitive to emerging threats associated with global climate change.

Item ID: 50728
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: climate change, coral-reef dynamics, disturbance, recovery, hydrodynamics, marine protected area
Funders: Department of Parks and Wildlife Exmouth regional office
Date Deposited: 20 Sep 2017 11:22
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 50%
04 EARTH SCIENCES > 0405 Oceanography > 040503 Physical Oceanography @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9611 Physical and Chemical Conditions of Water > 961102 Physical and Chemical Conditions of Water in Coastal and Estuarine Environments @ 40%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 30%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970105 Expanding Knowledge in the Environmental Sciences @ 30%
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