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Distribution, abundance and diversity of crustose coralline algae on the Great Barrier Reef

Abstract

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem. Crustose coralline algae (CCA) are important contributors to reef calcium carbonate and can facilitate coral recruitment. Despite the importance of CCA, little is known about species-level distribution, abundance, and diversity, and how these vary across the continental shelf and key habitat zones within the GBR. We quantified CCA species distributions using line transects (n = 127) at 17 sites in the northern and central regions of the GBR, distributed among inner-, mid-, and outer-shelf regions. At each site, we identified CCA along replicate transects in three habitat zones: reef flat, reef crest, and reef slope. Taxonomically, CCA species are challenging to identify (especially in the field), and there is considerable disagreement in approach. We used published, anatomically based taxonomic schemes for consistent identification. We identified 30 CCA species among 12 genera; the most abundant species were Porolithon onkodes, Paragoniolithon conicum (sensu Adey), Neogoniolithon fosliei, and Hydrolithon reinboldii. Significant cross-shelf differences were observed in CCA community structure and CCA abundance, with inner-shelf reefs exhibiting lower CCA abundance than outer-shelf reefs. Shelf position, habitat zone, latitude, depth, and the interaction of shelf position and habitat were all significantly associated with variation in composition of CCA communities. Collectively, shelf position, habitat, and their interaction contributed to 22.6 % of the variation in coralline communities. Compared to mid- and outer-shelf sites, inner-shelf sites exhibited lower relative abundances of N. fosliei and Lithophyllum species. Reef crest habitats exhibited greater abundance of N. fosliei than reef flat and reef slope habitats. Reef slope habitats exhibited lower abundance of P. onkodes, but greater abundance of Neogoniolithon clavycymosum than reef crest and reef slope habitats. These findings provide important data on CCA distribution within the GBR and reinforce the fundamental role of cross-shelf variation and diverse habitat zones as contributors to the biodiversity of the GBR.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Paola Rachello-Dolmen for creating Fig. 1. Partial funding for this work was provided by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies grant (CE0561435) to JMP and others.

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Correspondence to John M. Pandolfi.

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Communicated by Ecology Editor Dr. Stuart Sandin

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Dean, A.J., Steneck, R.S., Tager, D. et al. Distribution, abundance and diversity of crustose coralline algae on the Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 34, 581–594 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-015-1263-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-015-1263-5

Keywords

  • Coralline algae
  • Great Barrier Reef
  • Continental shelf
  • Benthic community structure
  • Biodiversity
  • Coral reefs