On the fate of dead coral colonies

Morais, Juliano, Morais Araujo, Renato, Tebbett, Sterling B., and Bellwood, David R. (2022) On the fate of dead coral colonies. Functional Ecology, 36 (12). pp. 3148-3160.

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Carbonate budgets dynamically balance production and loss of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) on coral reefs. To sustain or expand the coral reef framework, CaCO3 production by calcifying organisms must be higher than erosion. However, global climate change has been negatively impacting carbonate production, with bleaching events causing widespread coral mortality. Although bleaching and coral mortality are well documented, the fate of coral colonies after their death, including their erosion rates, are still poorly known.

We followed the fate of 143 recently dead individual coral colonies with complex growth forms (arborescent, caespitose, corymbose, digitate and tabular), whose mortality was triggered by two consecutive bleaching events. These colonies, spread over 16 km2 of the Lizard Island reef complex, were tracked for up to 5 years, allowing detailed examination of erosion rates and post-mortality structural persistence. We also tested how variables that are commonly used in coral reef erosion studies relate to spatial and temporal variability in the erosion rates of dead coral colonies. We revealed rapid erosion of dead coral colonies, with an average of 79.7% of dead colonies completely disintegrating within 60 months. The predicted half-life of a dead coral colony was 40 months, with limited variation among wave exposure levels. Remarkably, we found no effect of estimated parrotfish bioerosion, wave exposure, nor coral growth form, on observed erosion rates.

Our results suggest that our understanding of the erosion of dead corals may be more limited than previously thought. The rapid loss of coral colonies on our study sites calls for a re-evaluation of the role of corals with complex growth forms in reef growth and of parrotfishes in reef erosion.

Item ID: 76320
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1365-2435
Keywords: bioerosion, coral erosion, dead coral colony, ecosystem function, parrotfish
Copyright Information: © 2022 The Authors. Functional Ecology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC CE140100020, ARC FL190100062
Date Deposited: 19 Oct 2022 08:15
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 18 ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT > 1805 Marine systems and management > 180504 Marine biodiversity @ 100%
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