, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 336-343
Date: 27 Jul 2004

Benthic microalgae in coral reef sediments of the southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia

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Abstract

The abundance and productivity of benthic microalgae in coral reef sediments are poorly known compared with other, more conspicuous (e.g. coral zooxanthellae, macroalgae) primary producers of coral reef habitats. A survey of the distribution, biomass, and productivity of benthic microalgae on a platform reef flat and in a cross-shelf transect in the southern Great Barrier Reef indicated that benthic microalgae are ubiquitous, abundant (up to 995.0 mg chlorophyll (chl) a m−2), and productive (up to 110 mg O2 m−2 h−1) components of the reef ecosystem. Concentrations of benthic microalgae, expressed as chlorophyll a per surface area, were approximately 100-fold greater than the integrated water column concentrations of microalgae throughout the region. Benthic microalgal biomass was greater on the shallow water platform reef than in the deeper waters of the cross-shelf transect. In both areas the benthic microalgal communities had a similar composition, dominated by pennate diatoms, dinoflagellates, and cyanobacteria. Benthic microalgal populations were potentially nutrient-limited, based on responses to nitrogen and phosphorus enrichments in short-term (7-day) microcosm experiments. Benthic microalgal productivity, measured by O2 evolution, indicated productive communities responsive to light and nutrient availability. The benthic microalgal concentrations observed (92–995 mg chl a m−2) were high relative to other reports, particularly compared with temperate regions. This abundance of productive plants in both reef and shelf sediments in the southern Great Barrier Reef suggests that benthic microalgae are key components of coral reef ecosystems.

Communicated by Environmental Editor, B.C. Hatcher