Benthic community composition on submerged reefs in the central Great Barrier Reef

Abstract

Community dynamics on coral reefs are often examined only in relatively shallow waters, which are most vulnerable to many disturbances. The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA) includes extensive submerged reefs that do not approach sea level and are within depths that support many coral reef taxa that also occur in shallow water. However, the composition of benthic communities on submerged reefs in the GBRWHA is virtually unknown. We examined spatial patterns in benthic community composition on 13 submerged reefs in the central Great Barrier Reef (GBR) at depths of 10–30 m. We show that benthic communities on submerged reefs include similar species groups to those on neighbouring emergent reefs. The spatial distribution of species groups was well explained by depth and cross-shelf gradients that are well-known determinants of community composition on emergent reefs. Many equivalent species groups occurred at greater depths on submerged reefs, likely due to variability in the hydrodynamic environment among reef morphologies. Hard coral cover and species richness were lowest at the shallowest depth (6 m) on emergent reefs and were consistently higher on submerged reefs for any given depth. These results suggest that disturbances are less frequent on submerged reefs, but evidence that a severe tropical cyclone in 2011 caused significant damage to shallow regions of more exposed submerged reefs demonstrates that they are not immune. Our results confirm that submerged reefs in the central GBR support extensive and diverse coral assemblages that deserve greater attention in ecosystem assessments and management decisions.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

References

  1. Abbey E, Webster JM (2011) Submerged Reefs. In: Hopley D (ed) Encyclopedia of modern coral reefs. Springer, Netherlands, pp 1058–1062

    Google Scholar 

  2. Allen GR, Steene R (1998) Indo-Pacific coral reef field guide. Tropical Reef Research, Singapore

    Google Scholar 

  3. Anderson MJ, Gorley RN, Clarke KR (2008) PERMANOVA+ for PRIMER: A guide to software and statistical methods. Plymouth, PRIMER-E

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bak RPM, Nieuwland G (1995) Long-term change in coral communities along depth gradients over leeward reefs in the Netherland Antilles. Bull Mar Sci 56:609–619

    Google Scholar 

  5. Beaman RJ (2010) Project 3DGBR: A high-resolution depth model for the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility (MTSRF) Project 2.5i.1a Final Report, MTSRF, Cairns, Australia. Pp 13 plus Appendix 1 http://www.deepreef.org/publications/reports/67-3dgbr-final-report.html

  6. Bellwood DR, Hughes TP (2001) Regional-scale assembly rules and biodiversity of coral reefs. Science 292:1532–1534

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Bellwood DR, Hughes TP, Connolly SR, Tanner J (2005) Environmental and geometric constraints on Indo-Pacific coral reef biodiversity. Ecol Lett 8:648–651

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Bradbury RH, Young PC (1981) The effects of a major forcing function, wave energy, on a coral reef ecosystem. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 5:229–241

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bridge T, Beaman R, Done T, Webster J (2012) Predicting the location and spatial extent of submerged coral reef habitat in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, Australia. PLoS One 7:e48203

    Article  PubMed Central  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Carpenter KE, Abrar M, Aeby G, Aronsen RB, Banks S, Bruckner A, Chiriboga A, Cortes J, Delbeek JC, DeVantier L, Edgar GJ, Edwards AJ, Fenner D, Guzman HM, Hoeksema BW, Hodgson G, Johan O, Licuanan WY, Livingstone SR, Lovell ER, Moore JA, Obura DO, Ochavillo D, Polidoro BA, Precht WF, Quibilan MC, Reboton C, Richards ZT, Rogers AD, Sanciangco J, Sheppard A, Sheppard C, Smith J, Stuart S, Turak E, Veron JEN, Wallace C, Weil E, Wood E (2008) One-third of reef building corals face elevated extinction risk from climate change and local impacts. Science 321:560–563

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Chalker BE, Dunlap WC, Oliver JK (1983) Bathymetric adaptations of reef-building corals at Davies Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. II. Light saturation curves for photosynthesis and respiration. J Exp Mar Bio Ecol 73:37–56

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Chalker BE, Cox T, Dunlap WC (1984) Seasonal changes in primary production and photo adaptation by the reef-building coral Acropora granulosa, on the Great Barrier Reef. In: Holm-Hansen O, Bolis L, Gilles R (eds) Marine phytoplankton and productivity, pp 73–87

  13. Clarke KR, Warwick RM (2001) Change in marine communities: an approach to statistical analysis and interpretation, 2nd edn. PRIMER-E, Plymouth

    Google Scholar 

  14. Clarke KR, Gorley RN (2006) PRIMER v6: User manual/tutorial. PRIMER-E, Plymouth

    Google Scholar 

  15. Colwell RK (2013) EstimateS: Statistical estimation of species richness and shared species from samples. Version 9. User’s guide and application http://purl.oclc.org/estimates

  16. Colwell RK, Coddington JA (1994) Estimating Terrestrial Biodiversity through Extrapolation. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 345:101–118

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Connell JH (1978) Diversity in tropical rain forests and coral reefs. Science 199:1302–1310

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Day J, Fernandes L, Lewis A, Innes J (2003) RAP – An ecosystem level approach to biodiversity protection planning. Proceedings of the second international tropical marine ecosystems management symposium. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville, Australia, pp 251–265

  19. De’ath G, Fabricius KE (2010) Water quality as a regional driver of coral biodiversity and macroalgae on the Great Barrier Reef. Ecol Appl 20:840–850

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. De’ath G, Fabricius KE, Sweatman H, Puotinen M (2012) The 27-year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes. Proc Natl Acad Sci 109:17996–17999

    Google Scholar 

  21. Dinesen ZD (1982) Regional variation in shade-dwelling coral assemblages of the Great Barrier Reef province. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 7:117–123

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Done TJ (1982) Patterns in the distribution of coral communities across the central Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 1:95–107

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Done TJ (1983) Coral Zonation, its nature and significance. In: Barnes DJ, Clouston B (eds) Perspectives on coral reefs. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville

    Google Scholar 

  24. Done TJ (1992) Effects of tropical cyclone waves on ecological and geomorphological structures on the Great Barrier Reef. Cont Shelf Res 12:859–872

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Done TJ, DeVantier LM, Turak E, Fisk DA, Wakeford M, van Woesik R (2010) Coral growth on three reefs: development of recovery benchmarks using a space for time approach. Coral Reefs 29:815–833

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Fabricius KE, Alderslade P (2001) Soft corals and sea fans. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville

    Google Scholar 

  27. Fabricius KE, 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 51:384–398

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Fabricius KE, De’ath G, Puotinen ML, Done T, Cooper TF, Burgess SC (2008) Disturbance gradients on inshore and offshore coral reefs caused by a severe tropical cyclone. Limnol Oceanogr 53:690–704

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Gallop SL, Young IR, Ranasinghe R, Durrant TH, Haigh ID (2014) The large-scale influence of the Great Barrier Reef matrix on wave attenuation. Coral Reefs 33:1167–1178

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. GBRMPA (2011) Impacts of tropical cyclone Yasi on the Great Barrier Reef: a report on the findings of a rapid ecological impact assessment, July 2011. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville

  31. Goldberg WM (1973) The ecology of the coral-octocoral communities off the southeast Florida coast: geomorphology, species composition, and zonation. Bull Mar Sci 23:465–488

    Google Scholar 

  32. Goreau TF (1959) The ecology of Jamaican coral reefs I. Species composition and zonation. Ecology 40:67–90

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Graham NAJ, Chabanet P, Evans RD, Jennings S, Letourner Y, MacNeil MA, McClanahan TR, Ohman MC, Polunin NVC, Wilson SK (2011) Extinction vulnerability of coral reef fishes. Ecol Lett 14:341–346

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. Harris PT, Bridge TCL, Beaman RJ, Webster JM, Nichol SL, Brooke BP (2013) Submerged banks in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, greatly increase available coral reef habitat. ICES J Mar Sci 70:284–293

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Hearn C, Atkinson M, Falter J (2001) A physical derivation of nutrient-uptake rates in coral reefs: effects of roughness and waves. Coral Reefs 20:347–356

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Hill J, Wilkinson C (2004) Methods for ecological monitoring of coral reefs. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville

    Google Scholar 

  37. Hopley D (2006) Coral reef growth on the shelf margin of the Great Barrier Reef with special reference to the Pompey Complex. J Coastal Res 22:150–158

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Hopley D, Smithers SG, Parnell KE (2007) The Geomorphology of the Great Barrier Reef; development, diversity and change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  39. Huston MA (1985) Patterns of species diversity on coral reefs. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 16:149–177

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. IHO (2008) Standardization of undersea feature names: Guidelines proposal from terminology, 4th Ed. International Hydrographic Organisation and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, Monaco. http://www.iho-ohi.net/iho_pubs/bathy/B-6_e4_EF_Nov08.pdf

  41. Jackson JBC (1991) Adaptation and diversity of reef corals. BioScience 41:475–482

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Kench PS, Brander RW (2006) Wave processes on coral reef flats: Implications for reef geomorphology using Australian case studies. J Coast Res 22:209–223

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Kohler KE, Gill SM (2006) Coral Point Count with Excel extension (CPCe): A Visual Basic program for the determination of coral and substrate coverage using random point count methodology. Computers and Geosciences 32:1259–1269

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Kuhlmann DHH (1983) Composition and ecology of deep-water coral associations. Helgolander Wissenschaftliche Meeresuntersuchungen 36:183–204

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Lesser MP, Slattery M, Leichter JJ (2009) Ecology of mesophotic coral reefs. J Exp Mar Bio Ecol 375:1–8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Loya Y (1972) Community structure and species diversity of hermatypic corals at Eliat, Red Sea. Mar Biol 13:100–123

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Loya Y (1976) The Red Sea coral Stylophora pistillata is an r strategist. Nature 259:478–480

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Lugo-Fernandez A, Roberts HH, Suhayda JN (1998) Wave transformations across a Caribbean fringing-barrier coral reef. Cont Shelf Res 18:1099–1124

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Madin JS, Connolly SR (2006) Ecological consequences of major hydrodynamic disturbances on coral reefs. Nature 444:477–480

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. Massel SR (1993) Extended refraction-diffraction equation for surface waves. Coastal Engineering 19:97–126

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Massel SR, Done TJ (1993) Effects of cyclone waves on massive coral assemblages on the Great Barrier Reef meteorology, hydrodynamics and demography. Coral Reefs 12:153–166

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Monismith SG (2007) Hydrodynamics of Coral Reefs. Annu Rev Fluid Mech 39:37–55

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Oliver JK, Chalker BE, Dunlap WC (1983) Bathymetric adaptations of reef-building corals at Davies Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. I. Long-term growth responses of Acropora Formosa (Dana 1846). J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 73:11–35

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Osborne K, Dolman AM, Burges SC, Johns KA (2011) Disturbance and the dynamics of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef (1995-2009). PLoS One 6:e17516

    Article  PubMed Central  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. Perry CT, Smithers SG, Kench PS, Pears B (2014) Impacts of Cyclone Yasi on nearshore, terrigenous sediment-dominated reefs in the central Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Geomorphology 222:92–105

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Reigl B, Piller WE (1999) Coral frameworks revisited-reefs and coral carpets in the northern Red Sea. Coral Reefs 18:241–253

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Reigl B, Piller WE (2003) Possible refugia for reefs in times of environmental stress. Int J Earth Sci 92:520–531

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Riedl R (1971) Water movement: animals. Mar Ecol 1:1123–1156

    Google Scholar 

  59. Sheppard CRC (1980) Coral cover, zonation and diversity on reef slopes of Chagos Atolls, and population structures of the major species. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 2:193–205

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Sheppard CRC (1982) Coral populations on reef slopes and their major controls. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 7:83–115

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Smith TB, Glynn PW, Mate JL, Toth LT, Gyory J (2014) A depth refugium from catastrophic coral bleaching prevents regional extinction. Ecology 56:1663–1673

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Sweatman H, Cheal A, Coleman G, Delean S, Fitzpatrick B, Miller I, Ninio R, Osborne K, Page C, Thompson A (2001) Long-term monitoring of the Great Barrier Reef, status report number 5. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville

    Google Scholar 

  63. Sweatman H, Delean S, Syms C (2011) Assessing loss of coral cover on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef over two decades, with implications for longer-term trends. Coral Reefs 30:521–531

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Veron JEN (2000) Corals of the world Vol. 1-3. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, Australia

  65. Wakeford M, Done TJ, Johnson CR (2007) Decadal trends in a coral community and evidence of changed disturbance regime. Coral Reefs 27:1–13

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Wallace CC, Done BJ, Muir PR (2012) Revision and Catalogue of Worldwide Staghorn Corals Acropora and Isopora (Scleractinia: Acroporidae) in the Museum of Tropical Queensland. Queensland Museum, Townsville

    Google Scholar 

  67. Williams SB, Pizzaro O, Webster J, Beaman R, Mahon I, Johnson-Roberson M, Bridge TCL (2010) Autonomous underwater vehicle-assisted surveying of drowned reefs on the shelf edge of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Journal of Field Robotics 27:675–697

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Wismer S, Hoey AS, Bellwood DR (2009) Cross-shelf benthic community structure on the Great Barrier Reef: relationships between macroalgal cover and herbivore biomass. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 376:45–54

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Wyman KD, Dubinsky Z, Porter JW, Falkowski PG (1987) Light absorbtion and utilization among hermatypic corals: a study in Jamaica, West Indies. Marine Biology 96:283–292

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Tim Godfrey, Suzy Bagotai, Chancey MacDonald, Claire Bisseling, Shane Preston, Patrick Smallhorn-West, Robyn Hakelis, and Heather Welch for field assistance. We thank M. Stowar and the crew of the RV Cape Ferguson for their assistance with AUV surveys, which were conducted in collaboration with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, Sydney University. Andrew Baird, Martina Prazeres, and the JCU Ecological Modelling research group for their valuable comments on the manuscript. This research was funded by the Ian Potter Foundation, the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, AIMS@JCU, and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the Integrated Marine Observing System.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to T. E. Roberts.

Additional information

Communicated by Geology Editor Prof. Chris Perry

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 57 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Roberts, T.E., Moloney, J.M., Sweatman, H.P.A. et al. Benthic community composition on submerged reefs in the central Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 34, 569–580 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-015-1261-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Coral reefs
  • Submerged reefs
  • Depth
  • Cyclone
  • Wave energy
  • Ecosystem monitoring