, Volume 107, Issue 3, pp 485-490

Spatial and temporal variation in coral recruitment on the Great Barrier Reef: Implications for dispersal hypotheses

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Abstract

Over 15 000 coral recruits were counted on settlement plates from three mid-shelf reefs and six fringing reefs in the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef during two summers (1986 and 1987) and one winter (1987). The density of coral recruits on some settlement plates from a fringing reef was up to 4.88 cm−2, the highest value ever reported. Mean density of recruits was greater on fringing reefs (81.1 recruits/settlement plate) than on mid-shelf reefs (15.6 recruits/settlement plate), but there was greater spatial variation in abundance of recruits between the fringing reef sites. Other differences between the mid-shelf reefs and the fringing reefs were that different taxa were dominant, and that settlement orientation differed, with mid-shelf recruits settling preferentially on horizontally oriented surfaces and fringingreef recruits preferring vertical surfaces. Of the three midshelf reefs, Green Island reef recorded the highest recruitment rate for each of the two summers, despite having a depauperate adult coral population following predation by the asteroidAcanthaster planci. This suggests that coral larvae frequently travel between reefs. In contrast with an earlier study, there was no consistent difference in abundance of recruits between forereef and backreef locations. Overall, the results indicated great spatial variation in the availability of coral larvae, both on the scale of whole reefs and within-reef habitats.

Communicated by G. F. Humphrey, Sydney