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Species richness and community structure of reef-building corals on the nearshore Great Barrier Reef

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Abstract

Species richness, cover and community structure of reef-building corals were assessed at 599 sites on 135 reefs along the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) between 1994 and 2001, with focus on the nearshore area. Communities were described hierarchically, with smaller regional communities forming part of higher level communities at increasing spatial scales. Site richness increased from the coast to the mid-continental shelf, declining on the outer shelf. Richness also increased with depth to 5 m, stabilizing thereafter. An anomaly was present in a 400 km section adjacent to the northern, ‘wet tropics’ coast, where site richness was 67 and 41% lower than the adjacent far northern and central GBR, respectively; this was probably due to the disturbance regime, with an apparent anthropogenic component. Site richness also declined in the Southern GBR, probably due to naturally marginal conditions. All indicator species had highest values in five small Far Northern and Central GBR communities. In the eight depauperate communities no indicator species had high values, indicating that these communities represent degraded, yet potentially transitional forms of the more diverse communities of the Far Northern and Central GBR. The study shows that on the GBR, disturbance results in the local removal of corals rather than a shift to suites of other coral species.

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Acknowledgements

Facilities and funding for this study were provided by the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Commonwealth of Australia Cooperative Research Centers Program through the Cooperative Research Centre for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. We thank Mary Wakeford for her support in the field and cataloguing the data and Charlie Veron, Rob van Woesik and two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to K. E. Fabricius.

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Communicated by Environment Editor R. van Woesik

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DeVantier, L.M., De’ath, G., Turak, E. et al. Species richness and community structure of reef-building corals on the nearshore Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 25, 329–340 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-006-0115-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-006-0115-8

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