Coral Reefs

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 775-785

First online:

Coral reef encruster communities and carbonate production in cryptic and exposed coral reef habitats along a gradient of terrestrial disturbance

  • J. MallelaAffiliated withDepartment of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan UniversityDepartment of Life Sciences, The University of the West Indies Email author 

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Encrusting calcareous organisms such as bryozoans, crustose coralline algae (CCA), foraminiferans, and serpulid worms are integral components of tropical framework-building reefs. They can contribute calcium carbonate to the reef framework, stabilise the substrate, and promote larval recruitment of other framework-building species (e.g. coral recruits). The percentage cover of encrusting organisms and their rates of carbonate production (g m−2 year−1) were assessed at four sites within a coastal embayment, along a gradient of riverine influence (high-low). As the orientation and type of substrate is thought to influence recruitment of encrusting organisms, organisms recruiting to both natural (the underside of platy corals) and experimental substrates were assessed. The effect of substrate exposure under different levels of riverine influence was assessed by orientating experimental substrates to mimic cryptic and exposed reef habitats (downwards-facing vs upwards-facing tiles) at each site. Cryptic experimental tiles supported similar encruster assemblages to those recruiting to the underneath (cryptic side) of platy corals, suggesting that tiles can be used as an experimental substrate to assess encruster recruitment in reef systems. Encruster cover, in particular CCA, and carbonate production was significantly higher at low-impact (clear water), high wave energy sites when compared to highly riverine impacted (turbid water), low wave energy sites. Cryptically orientated substrates supported a greater diversity of encrusting organisms, in particular serpulid worms and bryozoans. The inverse relationships observed between riverine inputs and encrusters (total encruster cover and carbonate production) have implications for both the current and future rates and styles of reefal framework production.


Recruitment Coral reef framework Experimental tiles Sedimentation River runoff Encrusters