Coral Reefs

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 887–903 | Cite as

Linkages between coral assemblages and coral proxies of terrestrial exposure along a cross-shelf gradient on the southern Great Barrier Reef

  • S. Jupiter
  • G. Roff
  • G. Marion
  • M. Henderson
  • V. Schrameyer
  • M. McCulloch
  • O. Hoegh-Guldberg


Coral core records, combined with measurements of coral community structure, were used to assess the long-term impact of multiple environmental stressors on reef assemblages along an environmental gradient. Multiple proxies (luminescent lines, Ba/Ca, δ15N) that reflect different environmental conditions (freshwater discharge, sediment delivery to the nearshore, nutrient availability and transformations) were measured in Porites coral cores collected from nearshore reefs at increasing distance from the intensively agricultural region of Mackay (Queensland, Australia). The corals provide a record (1968–2002) of the frequency and intensity of exposure to terrestrial runoff and fertilizer-derived nitrogen and were used to assess how the present-day coral community composition may have been influenced by flood-related disturbance. Reefs closest to the mainland (5–32 km offshore) were characterized by low hard coral cover (≤10%), with no significant differences among locations. Distinct annual luminescent lines and elevated Ba/Ca values (4.98 ± 0.63 μmol mol−1; mean ± SD) in the most inshore corals (Round Top Island; 5 km offshore) indicated chronic, sub-annual exposure to freshwater and resuspended terrestrial sediment that may have historically prevented reef formation. By contrast, corals from Keswick Island (32 km offshore) indicated episodic, high-magnitude exposure to Pioneer River discharge during extreme flood events (e.g., 1974, 1991), with strongly luminescent lines and substantially enriched coral skeletal δ15N (12–14‰). The reef assemblages at Keswick and St. Bees islands were categorically different from all other locations, with high fleshy macroalgal cover (80.1 ± 7.2% and 62.7 ± 7.1%, respective mean ± SE) overgrowing dead reef matrix. Coral records from Scawfell Island (51 km offshore) indicated little exposure to Pioneer catchment influence: all locations from Scawfell and further offshore had total hard and soft coral cover comparable to largely undisturbed nearshore to middle shelf reefs of the southern Great Barrier Reef.


Porites Luminescence Barium Nitrogen isotope Coral assemblage Disturbance frequency 



Funding for this project was provided through an ARC Linkage grant (LP050896) to O. Hoegh-Guldberg and M. McCulloch, with significant contributions from the Mackay City Council, the Mackay Whitsunday Natural Resource Management Group and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Fieldwork was conducted aboard the Lara Star, operated by Warren and Barbara Hill, to whom we are very grateful. We thank Les Kinsley, Dave Mucciarone, and Eric Matson for laboratory assistance, and Janice Lough and Terry Done for helpful comments on the manuscript.


  1. Alibert C, Kinsey L, Fallon SJ, McCulloch MT, Berkelmans R, McAllister F (2003) Source of trace element variability in Great Barrier Reef corals affected by the Burdekin flood plumes. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 67:231–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allison N (1996) Geochemical anomalies in coral skeletons and their possible implications for palaeoenvironmental analyses. Mar Chem 55:367–379CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Altabet MA (2006) Isotopic tracers of the marine nitrogen cycle: past and present. In: Volkman JK (ed) Marine organic matter: biomarkers, isotopes and DNA. Springer, Berlin, pp 251–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnes DJ, Taylor RB, Lough JM (2003) Measurement of luminescence in coral skeletons. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 295:91–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beck JW, Edwards RL, Ito E, Taylor FW, Recy J, Rougerie F, Joannot P, Henin C (1992) Sea-surface temperature from coral skeletal strontium/calcium ratios. Science 257:644–647PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bell PRF, Elmetri I (1995) Ecological indicators of large-scale eutrophication in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. Ambio 24:208–215Google Scholar
  7. Bray JR, Curtis JT (1957) An ordination of the upland forest communities in southern Wisconsin. Ecol Monogr 27:325–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Buddemeier RW, Hopley D (1988) Turn-ons and turn-offs: causes and mechanisms of the initiation and termination of coral reef growth. Proc 6th Int Coral Reef Symp 1:253–261Google Scholar
  9. Carroll J, Falkner KK, Brown ET, Moore WS (1993) The role of the Ganges-Brahmaputra mixing zone in supplying barium and 226Ra to the Bay of Bengal. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 57:2981–2990CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clarke KR, Warwick RM (2001) Change in marine communities: an approach to statistical analysis and interpretation, 2nd edn. Primer-e, PlymouthGoogle Scholar
  11. Cohen J (1973) Eta-squared and partial eta-squared in fixed factor ANOVA designs. Educ Psychol Meas 33:107–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Connell JH (1978) Diversity in tropical rain forests and coral reefs. Science 199:1302–1310PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cooper TF, Uthicke S, Humphrey C, Fabricius KE (2007) Gradients in water column nutrients, sediment parameters, irradiance and coral reef development in the Whitsunday Region, central Great Barrier Reef. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 74:458–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. De’ath G, Moran P (1998) Factors affecting the behaviour of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) on the Great Barrier Reef. 2. Feeding preferences. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 220:107–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. DeVantier LM, Done TJ (2007) Inferring past outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns seastar from scar patterns on coral heads. In: Aronson R (ed) Geological approaches to coral reef ecology. Springer, New York, pp 85–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. DeVantier LM, De’ath G, Done TJ, Turak E (1998) Ecological assessment of a complex natural system: a case study from the Great Barrier Reef. Ecol Appl 8:480–496CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. DeVantier LM, De’ath G, Turak E, Done TJ, Fabricius KE (2006) Species richness and community structure of reef-building corals on the nearshore Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 25:329–340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Diaz-Pulido G, McCook LJ (2002) The fate of bleached corals: patterns and dynamics of algal recruitment. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 232:115–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Done TJ (1982) Patterns in the distribution of coral communities across the central Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 1:95–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Done TJ (1992) Phase shifts in coral reef communities and their ecological significance. Hydrobiologia 247:121–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Done TJ (1999) Coral community adaptability to environmental change at the scales of regions, reefs and reef zones. Am Zool 39:66–79Google Scholar
  22. Done TJ, Turak E, Wakeford M, DeVantier L, McDonald A, Fisk D (2007) Decadal changes in turbid-water coral communities at Pandora Reef: loss of resilience or too soon to tell? Coral Reefs 26:789–805CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fabricius KE (1998) Reef invasion by soft corals: which taxa and which habitats? In: Grenwood JG, Hall NJ (eds) Proceedings of the Australian Coral Reef Society 75th Anniversary Conference. School of Marine Science, University of Queensland, Brisbane, pp 77–90 Google Scholar
  24. Fabricius KE (2005) Effects of terrestrial runoff on the ecology of corals and coral reefs: review and synthesis. Mar Pollut Bull 50:125–146PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fabricius K, Wolanski E (2000) Rapid smothering of coral reef organisms by muddy marine snow. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 50:115–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fabricius KE, Wild C, Wolanski E, Abele D (2003) Effects of transparent exopolymer particles and muddy terrigenous sediments on the survival of hard coral recruits. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 57:613–621CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fabricius K, De’ath G, McCook L, Turak E, Williams DM (2005) Changes in algal, coral and fish assemblages along water quality gradients on the inshore Great Barrier Reef. Mar Pollut Bull 51:384–398PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fallon SJ, McCulloch MT, van Woesik R, Sinclair DJ (1999) Corals at their latitudinal limits: laser ablation trace element systematics in Porites from Shirigai Bay, Japan. Earth Planet Sci Lett 172:221–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Furnas M, Mitchell A, Skuza M, Brodie J (2005) In the other 90%: phytoplankton responses to enhanced nutrient availability in the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon. Mar Pollut Bull 51:253–265PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hacker JLF (1988) Rapid accumulation of fluvially derived sands and gravels in a tropical macrotidal estuary: the Pioneer River at Mackay, North Queensland, Australia. Sediment Geol 57:299–315CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hanor JS, Chan L-H (1977) Non-conservative behavior of barium during mixing of Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico waters. Earth Planet Sci Lett 37:242–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Heaton T (1986) Isotopic studies of nitrogen pollution in the hydrosphere and atmosphere: a review. Chem Geol 59:87–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hoegh-Guldberg O, Mumby PJ, Hooten AJ, Steneck RS, Greenfield P, Gomez E, Harvell DR, Sale PF, Edwards AJ, Caldeira K, Knowlton N, Eakin CM, Iglesias-Prieto R, Muthiga N, Bradbury RH, Dubi A, Hatziolos ME (2007) Coral reefs under rapid climate change and ocean acidification. Science 318:1737–1742PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hopley D (1984) The Holocene ‘high energy window’ on the central Great Barrier Reef. In: Thom BG (ed) Coastal geomorphology in Australia. Academic Press, Canberra, pp 135–150Google Scholar
  35. Hopley D, Parnell KE, Isdale PJ (1989) The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park: dimensions and regional patterns. Aust Geogr Stud 27:47–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hughes TP (1989) Community structure and diversity of coral reefs: the role of history. Ecology 70:275–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hughes TP (1994) Catastrophes, phase shifts, and large-scale degradation of a Caribbean coral reef. Science 265:1547–1551PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Isdale P (1984) Fluorescent bands in massive corals record centuries of coastal rainfall. Nature 310:578–579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Jupiter SD (2006) From cane to coral reefs: ecosystems linkages and downstream responses to land use intensification. Ph.D. thesis, University of California, Santa Cruz, p 300Google Scholar
  40. Jupiter SD, Marion GS (2008) Changes in forest area along stream networks in an agricultural catchment of the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. Environ Manage 42:66–79PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. King B, McAllister F, Wolanski E, Done T, Spagnol S (2001) River plume dynamics in the central Great Barrier Reef. In: Wolanksi E (ed) Oceanographic processes of coral reefs: physical and biological links in the Great Barrier Reef. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 145–160Google Scholar
  42. Kleypas JA (1996) Coral reef development under naturally turbid conditions: fringing reefs near Broad Sound, Australia. Coral Reefs 15:153–167Google Scholar
  43. Kleypas JA, Hopley D (1992) Reef development across a broad continental shelf, southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Proc 7th Int Coral Reef Symp 2:1129–1141Google Scholar
  44. Kohler KE, Gill SM (2006) Coral Point Count with Excel extensions (CPCe): a visual basic program for the determination of coral and substrate coverage using random point count methodology. Comput Geosci 32:1259–1269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kuffner IB, Walters LJ, Beccero MA, Paul VJ, Ritson-Williams R, Beach KS (2006) Inhibition of coral recruitment by macroalgae and cyanobacteria. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 323:107–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Larcombe P, Woolfe KJ (1999) Increased sediment supply to the Great Barrier Reef will not increase sediment accumulation at most coral reefs. Coral Reefs 18:163–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Lough JM (1994) Climate variation and El Nino-Southern Oscillation events on the Great Barrier Reef: 1958 to 1987. Coral Reefs 13:181–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lough JM (2004) A strategy to improve the contribution of coral data to high-resolution paleoclimatology. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 204:115–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lough JM, Barnes DJ, McAllister FA (2002) Luminescent lines in corals from the Great Barrier Reef provide spatial and temporal records of reefs affected by land runoff. Coral Reefs 21:333–343Google Scholar
  50. Marion GS (2007) The nitrogen isotopic composition of the organic matrices of coral skeleton: A proxy for historical nitrogen provenance in tropical coastal oceans. Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, p 190Google Scholar
  51. Marion GS, Dunbar RB, Mucciarone DA, Kremer JN, Lansing JS, Arthawinguna A (2005) Coral skeletal δ15 N reveals isotopic traces of an agricultural revolution. Mar Pollut Bull 50:931–944PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Marshall PA, Baird AH (2000) Bleaching of corals on the Great Barrier Reef: differential susceptibilities among taxa. Coral Reefs 19:155–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. McCook LJ (1999) Macroalgae, nutrients and phase shifts on coral reefs: scientific issues and management consequences for the Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 18:357–367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. McCulloch M, Fallon S, Wyndham T, Hendy E, Lough J, Barnes D (2003) Coral record of increased sediment flux to the inner Great Barrier Reef since European settlement. Nature 421:727–730PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. McManus JW, Menez LAB, Reyes KNK, Vergara SG, Ablan MC (2000) Coral reef fishing and coral-algal phase shifts: Implications for global reef status. ICES J Mar Sci 57:572–578CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Middleburg JJ, Nieuwenhuize J (2001) Nitrogen isotope tracing of dissolved inorganic nitrogen behaviour in tidal estuaries. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 53:385–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Neil DT, Orpin AR, Ridd PV, Yu B (2002) Sediment yield and impacts from river catchments to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. Mar Freshw Res 53:733–752CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Nystrom M, Folke C, Moberg F (2000) Coral reef disturbance and resilience in a human-dominated environment. Trends Ecol Evol 15:413–417PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Ostrander GK, Meyer Armstrong K, Knobbe ET, Gerace D, Scully EP (2000) Rapid transition in the structure of a coral reef community: The effects of coral bleaching and physical disturbance. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 97:5297–5302PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Owens N (1987) Natural variations in 15 N in the marine environment. Adv Mar Biol 24:389–451CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Pulsford JS (1996) Historical nutrient usage in coastal Queensland river catchments adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Research Publication No. 40, Townsville, Australia p. 63Google Scholar
  62. Rainford EH (1925) Destruction of the Whitsunday Group fringing reefs. Aust Mus Mag 2:175–177Google Scholar
  63. Rayment GE, Neil DT (1997) Sources of material in river discharge. Proceedings of The Great Barrier Reef: science, use and management a national conference. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville, 1:42–58Google Scholar
  64. Risk MJ, Erdmann MV (2000) Isotopic composition of nitrogen in stomatopd (Crustacea) tissues as an indicator of human sewage impacts on Indonesian coral reefs. Mar Pollut Bull 40:50–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Sammarco PW, Risk MJ, Schwarcz HP, Heikoop JM (1999) Cross continental shelf trends in coral δ15 N on the Great Barrier Reef: further consideration of the reef nutrient paradox. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 180:131–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Sinclair DJ, McCulloch MT (2004) Corals record low mobile barium concentrations in the Burdekin River during the 1974 flood: evidence for limited Ba supply to rivers? Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 214:155–174Google Scholar
  67. Sinclair DJ, Kinsey LPJ, McCulloch MT (1998) High resolution analysis of trace elements in corals by laser ablation ICP-MS. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 62:1889–1901CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Smithers SG, Woodroffe CD (2001) Coral microatolls and 20th century sea level in the eastern Indian Ocean. Earth Planet Sci Lett 191:173–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Stobart B, Teleki K, Buckley R, Downing N, Callow M (2005) Coral recovery at Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles: five years after the 1998 bleaching event. Philos Trans R Soc Lond A 363:251–255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sweatman H, Thompson A, Delean S, Davidson J, Neale S (2007) Status of near-shore reefs of the Great Barrier Reef 2004. Marine and Tropical Research Facility Research Report Series, Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited, CairnsGoogle Scholar
  71. Sweatman H, Burgess S, Cheal A, Coleman G, Delean S, Emslie M, McDonald A, Miller I, Osborne K, Thompson A (2005) Long-term monitoring of the Great Barrier Reef. Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, TownsvilleGoogle Scholar
  72. Umar MJ, McCook LJ, Price IR (1998) Effects of sediment deposition on the seaweed Sargassum on a fringing coral reef. Coral Reefs 17:169–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. van Woesik R, Done TJ (1997) Coral communities and reef growth in the southern Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 16:103–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. van Woesik R, DeVantier LM, Glazebrook JS (1995) Effects of Cyclone ‘Joy’ on nearshore coral communities of the Great Barrier Reef. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 128Google Scholar
  75. van Woesik R, Tomascik T, Blake S (1999) Coral assemblages and physico-chemical characteristics of the Whitsunday Islands: evidence of recent community changes. Mar Freshw Res 50:427–440Google Scholar
  76. Waser NAD, Harrison PL, Nielsen B, Calvert SE, Turpin DH (1998) Nitrogen isotope fractionation during the uptake and assimilation of nitrate, nitrite, ammonium, and urea by a marine diatom. Limnol Oceanogr 43:215–224Google Scholar
  77. Wooldridge S, Brodie J, Furnas M (2006) Exposure of inner-shelf reefs to nutrient enriched runoff entering the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon: Post-European changes and the design of water quality targets. Mar Pollut Bull 52:1467–1479PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Jupiter
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • G. Roff
    • 3
  • G. Marion
    • 3
  • M. Henderson
    • 3
  • V. Schrameyer
    • 3
  • M. McCulloch
    • 1
  • O. Hoegh-Guldberg
    • 3
  1. 1.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Australian Institute of Marine ScienceTownsville MCAustralia
  3. 3.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Centre for Marine StudiesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.WCS South Pacific Country ProgramSuvaFiji Islands

Personalised recommendations