Latitudinal variation in coral communities in eastern Australia: a qualitative biophysical model of factors regulating coral reefs
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The processes underlying the distributional limits of both corals and coral reefs can be elucidated by examining coral communities at high latitudes. Coral-dominated communities in eastern Australia cover a latitudinal range of >2,500 km, from the northern Great Barrier Reef (11°S) to South West Rocks (31.5°S). Patterns of coral species richness from 11 locations showed a clear separation between the Great Barrier Reef and subtropical sites, with a further abrupt change at around 31°S. Differences in community structure between the Great Barrier Reef and more southern sites were mainly attributable to higher cover of massive corals, branching Acropora, dead coral and coralline algae on the Great Barrier Reef, and higher cover of macroalgae and bare rock at more southern sites. The absence of some major reef-building taxa (i.e., staghorn Acropora and massive Porites) from most subtropical sites coincided with the loss of reef accretion capacity. Despite high cover of hard corals in communities at up to 31°S, only Lord Howe Island contained areas of reef accretion south of the Great Barrier Reef. Factors that have been hypothesized to account for latitudinal changes in coral community structure include water temperature, aragonite saturation, light availability, currents and larval dispersal, competition between corals and other biota including macroalgae, reduced coral growth rates, and failure of coral reproduction or recruitment. These factors do not operate independently of each other, and they interact in complex ways.
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