Coral Reefs

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 155-163

First online:

Bleaching of corals on the Great Barrier Reef: differential susceptibilities among taxa

  • P. A. MarshallAffiliated withCRC Reef Research Centre and, Department of Tropical Environment Studies and Geography, James Cook University, Townsville, Q 4811, Australia e-mail:, Fax: +61-7- 47814900 Tel: +61-7-47815253
  • , A. H. BairdAffiliated withDepartment of Marine Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Q 4811, Australia

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Large-scale coral bleaching episodes are potentially major disturbances to coral reef systems, yet a definitive picture of variation in assemblage response and species susceptibilities is still being compiled. Here, we provide a detailed analysis of the bleaching response of 4160 coral colonies, representing 45 genera and 15 families, from two depths at four sites on reefs fringing inshore islands on the Great Barrier Reef. Six weeks after the onset of large-scale bleaching in 1998, between 11 and 83% of colonies along replicate transects were affected by bleaching, and mortality was 1 to 16%. There were significant differences in bleaching response between sites, depths and taxa. Cyphastrea, Turbinaria and Galaxea were relatively unaffected by bleaching, while most acroporids and pocilloporids were highly susceptible. The hydrocorals (Millepora spp.) were the most susceptible taxa, with 85% mortality. Spatial variation in assemblage response was linked to the taxonomic composition of reef sites and their bleaching history. We suggest, therefore, that much of the spatial variation in bleaching response was due to assemblage composition and thermal acclimation.

Key Words Acclimatization Coral reef Disturbance History Mortality