Coral Reefs

, 28:1005 | Cite as

Structure and growth rates of the high-latitude coral: Plesiastrea versipora

  • S. N. Burgess
  • M. T. McCulloch
  • G. E. Mortimer
  • T. M. Ward


The high-latitude coral species Plesiastrea versipora was investigated to identify growth rates in colonies over 1 m in diameter. Six colonies from two temperate gulfs (latitudes of 33°–35°S) in Southern Australia were examined using X-ray, luminescence and 238U/230Th dating techniques. Annual density bands were present in each coral but varied in width and definition, suggesting different linear extension and calcification rates. Differences in density band width were observed at the local scale (amongst colonies on the same reef) and regional scales (between the two gulfs). Extension rates of the P. versipora colonies examined in this study varied between 1.2 and 7 mm per year, which are amongst the slowest growth rates reported for hermatypic corals. As only one of the six P. versipora colonies had obvious luminescent banding, we conclude that luminescent banding is not an accurate chronological marker in this species of temperate water coral. Coral age estimates derived from counting density bands in X-radiographs ranged from 90 to 320 years for the six colonies studied. U-Th ages from the same colonies determined by high-precision multi-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer established radiometric ages between 105 and 381 years. The chronological variation in absolute ages between the two techniques varied between 2 and 19% in different colonies, with the lowest growth rates (~1 mm) displaying the greatest variation between density band age and radiometric U-Th age. This result implies that the age of P. versipora and other slow-growing corals cannot be determined accurately from density bands alone. The outcome of this research demonstrates that P. versipora may be useful as a paleoclimate archive, recording several centuries in a single colony in high-latitude environments (corals found in latitudes greater than 30° in either hemisphere), where other well-established coral climate archives, such as Porites, do not occur.


Coral U-Th Dating Chronology High-latitude South Australia 



All fieldwork was conducted with the support of the South Australian Research and Development Institute: Aquatic Science staff from West Beach and Port Lincoln. We particularly appreciate L. McLeay for providing diving and boat support. Gratitude is expressed to the diving community of Adelaide and South Australia who provided invaluable information on coral locations. Plesiastrea photographs were taken by B. Ferguson, ANU. Scanning electron micrographs were taken at the Electron Microscopy Unit at ANU. X-rays were taken by C. Hounslow at the Canberra Imaging Group. Two anonymous reviewers are thanked for their comments which significantly improved this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. N. Burgess
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • M. T. McCulloch
    • 1
  • G. E. Mortimer
    • 1
  • T. M. Ward
    • 2
  1. 1.Research School of Earth SciencesThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.South Australian Research and Development Institute: Aquatic SciencesWest BeachAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of OxfordOxfordUnited Kingdom

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