Pronounced differences exist in the biodiversity and structure of coral reef assemblages with increasing distance from shore, which may be expected given marked cross-shelf gradients in environmental conditions. Cross-shelf variation in the abundance of coral reef organisms is likely to be caused, at least in part, by differences in demography (e.g., growth and survival), though this has rarely been tested. This study quantified growth of three distinct branching coral taxa (Acropora nasuta
spp. and Stylophora pistillata
) at six locations on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR), encompassing inshore, mid-shelf and outer-shelf reefs. Replicate colonies (0–15 colonies per species, per reef) were stained using Alizarin Red in December 2015 and retrieved one year later to quantify linear extension on replicate branches for each colony. Annual linear extension varied within and among coral taxa, with pronounced differences among reefs. For A. nasuta.
and S. pistillata
, growth rates were highest at one of the inshore reefs, Orpheus Island. However, inter-reef differences in linear extension were not explained by shelf position. Based on differences in skeletal density, which did vary according to shelf position, branching corals at the inshore sites may actually have higher rates of calcification compared to conspecifics on mid-and outer-shelf reefs. This study shows that growth of branching corals is not lower at inshore sites (and perhaps even higher) compared to sites at mid-shelf and outer reefs, despite generally higher levels of sedimentation and turbidity.
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