Spatial resilience of the Great Barrier Reef under cumulative disturbance impacts

Mellin, Camille, Matthews, Samuel, Anthony, Kenneth R.N., Brown, Stuart C., Caley, M. Julian, Johns, Kerryn A., Osborne, Kate, Puotinen, Marjetta, Thompson, Angus, Wolff, Nicholas H., Fordham, Damien A., and MacNeil, M. Aaron (2019) Spatial resilience of the Great Barrier Reef under cumulative disturbance impacts. Global Change Biology, 25 (7). pp. 2431-2445.

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In the face of increasing cumulative effects from human and natural disturbances, sustaining coral reefs will require a deeper understanding of the drivers of coral resilience in space and time. Here we develop a high-resolution, spatially explicit model of coral dynamics on Australia's Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Our model accounts for biological, ecological and environmental processes, as well as spatial variation in water quality and the cumulative effects of coral diseases, bleaching, outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster cf. solaris), and tropical cyclones. Our projections reconstruct coral cover trajectories between 1996 and 2017 over a total reef area of 14,780 km(2), predicting a mean annual coral loss of -0.67%/year mostly due to the impact of cyclones, followed by starfish outbreaks and coral bleaching. Coral growth rate was the highest for outer shelf coral communities characterized by digitate and tabulate Acropora spp. and exposed to low seasonal variations in salinity and sea surface temperature, and the lowest for inner-shelf communities exposed to reduced water quality. We show that coral resilience (defined as the net effect of resistance and recovery following disturbance) was negatively related to the frequency of river plume conditions, and to reef accessibility to a lesser extent. Surprisingly, reef resilience was substantially lower within no-take marine protected areas, however this difference was mostly driven by the effect of water quality. Our model provides a new validated, spatially explicit platform for identifying the reefs that face the greatest risk of biodiversity loss, and those that have the highest chances to persist under increasing disturbance regimes.

Item ID: 60020
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1365-2486
Keywords: Acanthaster, bleaching, coral reefs, crown-of-thorns, cyclones, water quality
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Copyright Information: © 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
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A version of this publication was included as Chapter 5 of the following PhD thesis: Matthews, Samuel (2019) Modelling tools to support the management of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster cf. solaris) on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. PhD thesis, James Cook University, which is available Open Access in ResearchOnline@JCU. Please see the Related URLs for access.

Funders: Australian Research Council
Projects and Grants: Grant number: DE140100701
Date Deposited: 14 Aug 2019 07:38
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4101 Climate change impacts and adaptation > 410102 Ecological impacts of climate change and ecological adaptation @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9603 Climate and Climate Change > 960301 Climate Change Adaptation Measures @ 100%
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