Historical mortality in massive Porites from the central Great Barrier Reef, Australia: evidence for past environmental stress?

Abstract

>Two hiatuses in coral skeleton growth, associated tissue death and subsequent regrowth, were discovered while dating eight multi-century Porites coral cores collected from the central Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Australia. Cross-dating of characteristic annual luminescent lines visible in the coral core slices under UV-light (Hendy et al. 2003) accurately dated the two events to 1782–85 and 1817 a.d.. Die-off scars were observed in only one core for each event. X-radiographs and photographs taken under UV-light show the pattern of regrowth and the period taken by the coral to recover. Bioerosion, predominately by boring sponges (Cliona spp.), of the exposed coral surface following the 1782–85 event caused a hiatus of up to 14 years' growth, with the coral taking 7–8 years to reclaim the whole surface contained within the 9-cm-diameter core. Contemporary historical and proxy-climate records indicate that El Niño climatic conditions occurred at the time of both growth discontinuities. Intense luminescence observed in corals growing continuously during the 1817 event suggests that low salinity from river runoff was a contributing factor, analogous environmental conditions to those that were associated with the 1998 bleaching event in the GBR.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Monty Devereux (AIMS) for valuable assistance with the coral cores and X-radiographs, and Peter Isdale, Bruce Parker, and colleagues at AIMS for collecting the coral cores and allowing us to access the material. We also thank Stuart Hay and Neal McCracken at 'ANU Photography' for their skill in processing the UV photographs and contact prints of X-ray negatives. Techniques for photographing coral luminescent bands under UV light were developed by Dan Sinclair (formerly RSES, ANU) and Stuart Hay. Jeff Wood from the ANU Statistical Consulting Unit provided advice on the probability analysis. Valuable suggestions from Dave Barnes, Sandy Tudhope and an anonymous reviewer greatly improved the manuscript. E.J. Hendy was supported by an APA scholarship at ANU.

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Correspondence to E. J. Hendy.

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Hendy, E.J., Lough, J.M. & Gagan, M.K. Historical mortality in massive Porites from the central Great Barrier Reef, Australia: evidence for past environmental stress?. Coral Reefs 22, 207–215 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-003-0304-7

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Keywords

  • Coral reef disturbance
  • ENSO
  • Bleaching events
  • X-radiographs
  • Coral luminescence (fluorescence)