Sediments ratchet-down coral reef algal turf productivity

Tebbett, Sterling B., and Bellwood, David R. (2020) Sediments ratchet-down coral reef algal turf productivity. Science of the Total Environment, 713. 136709.

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Coral reefs are highly productive ecosystems, with much of this productivity arising from the algal turfs which cover the hard reef substratum. This productivity can flow up the food chain through herbivorous fishes, to be harvested by humans as fishable biomass. However, algal turfs exist on a spectrum of forms from short productive algal turfs (SPATs), to long sediment-laden algal turfs (LSATs). The latter are increasingly likely to typify Anthropocene coral reefs, however, we have a limited understanding of their nature and potential productivity. We assessed the nature of algal turfs in terms of length, biomass, relative detritus content, and productivity across a sediment load gradient, from SPATs to LSATs, at two reefs separated by >450 km along Australia's Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Furthermore, to assess the capacity of sediments to shape productivity, we modelled algal turf productivity, as a function of sediment load, across multiple spatial scales in a Bayesian framework. We recorded precipitous declines in both the productivity of algal turfs, and the relative nutritional value of particulates, up to sediment loads of ~100 g m−2. However, algal turf biomass did not change with sediment loads. This appears to reflect a shift in algal community composition from short, high-biomass, highly-productive algae at low sediment loads, to longer, low-biomass, less productive algae at high sediment loads. Importantly, these relationships provide a robust framework for estimating algal turf productivity on coral reefs. Indeed, when we applied our models to known sediment loads, we reveal that sediment loads alone can explain observed algal turf productivity gradients across multiple spatial scales. In an era of global climate change and coral reef reconfiguration, algal turf sediments may hold the key to maintaining benthic productivity on coral reefs in the Anthropocene.

Item ID: 67928
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1879-1026
Copyright Information: © 2020 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Date Deposited: 27 Apr 2021 04:44
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410402 Environmental assessment and monitoring @ 100%
SEO Codes: 18 ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT > 1805 Marine systems and management > 180505 Measurement and assessment of marine water quality and condition @ 100%
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