The effect of prolonged “bleaching” on skeletal banding and stable isotopic composition in Montastrea annularis
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X-radiography and carbon and oxygen stable isotope analysis have been used to examine the effects of prolonged “bleaching” on the growth rate and chemical composition of the skeleton of the massive reef coral, Montastrea annularis. The post-bleaching linear growth of one colony that remained bleached for 10 to 12 months following the 1987 Caribbean-wide bleaching event was only 37% of mean annual growth from pre-bleaching years, and was manifest as a loss of the following year's low density band. Two colonies that did not bleach (normal) and two that bleached and regained their coloration (recovered) had linear growth rates over the same period that were 81 to 98% of mean pre-bleaching annual growth. Linear growth by a third recovered coral was 66% of pre-bleaching growth. No sub-annual stress bands were associated with the bleaching. The skeleton of the bleached colony had carbon and oxygen isotopic compositions that were reduced in range and enriched (increased) in both 13C and 18O in the post-bleaching year. The skeletons of two of the nine colonies, one bleached and one recovered, had depleted (reduced) δ18O values (-5.3 and -4.8%., respectively) during the bleaching episode that agree with the suggestion that positive temperature anomalies occurred during, and may have caused, the bleaching event. The range and values for all other normal and recovered corals, however, were not different between the post-bleaching year and previous years. Our data suggest that stress bands and isotopic analysis of coral skeletons may not always be reliable tools for examining the occurrence, cause or effects of certain discrete stress events that may interrupt skeletal growth.
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