, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 77-84
Date: 03 Dec 2005

Depth limit for reef building corals in the Au’au Channel, S.E. Hawaii

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Abstract

In this paper, the relationship between reef building (accretion) and depth in an optimal inter-island channel environment in Hawaii is analyzed. For accretion, the growth rate of Porites lobata is used as a proxy for the reef community, because it is the most abundant and dominant species of reef building coral in Hawaii. Optimal growth of P. lobata occurs at a depth of 6 m, below which both growth rate and abundance decrease with increasing depth. A lower depth limit for this species is found at about 80–100 m, yet reef accretion ceases at ~50 m depth. Below 50 m, rates of bio-erosion of colony holdfasts equal or exceed the growth of basal attachments, causing colonies to detach from the bottom. Continued bio-erosion further erodes and dislodges colonies leading to their breakdown and ultimately to the formation of coralline rubble and sand. Thus, within this channel environment in Hawaii, a threshold for reef building exists at ~ 50 m depth, where coral accretion is interrupted by bio-erosion. Conceptually viewed, this depth horizon is analogous to a vertical Darwin Point, although quite narrow in space and time. More importantly, it explains the history of reef morphology in the Au’au Channel where a chronological hiatus exists at a depth near 50 m. This hiatus separates shallower modern growth (about 100 years or less) from the deeper reef which is all due to accretion during the early Holocene or Pleistocene epochs.

Communicated by Geological Editor P.K. Swart