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Diversity 2019, 11(3), 38; https://doi.org/10.3390/d11030038

Cross-Shelf Variation in Coral Community Response to Disturbance on the Great Barrier Reef

1
Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB No. 3, Townsville MC, Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia
2
The Environment Institute and School of Biological Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia 5005, Australia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 14 December 2018 / Revised: 27 February 2019 / Accepted: 1 March 2019 / Published: 6 March 2019
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Abstract

Changes in coral reef health and status are commonly reported using hard coral cover, however such changes may also lead to substantial shifts in coral community composition. Here we assess the extent to which coral communities departed from their pre-disturbance composition following disturbance (disassembly), and reassembled during recovery (reassembly) along an environmental gradient across the continental shelf on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. We show that for similar differences in coral cover, both disassembly and reassembly were greater on inshore reefs than mid- or outer-shelf reefs. This pattern was mostly explained by spatial variation in the pre-disturbance community composition, of which 28% was associated with chronic stressors related to water quality (e.g., light attenuation, concentrations of suspended sediments and chlorophyll). Tropical cyclones exacerbated the magnitude of community disassembly, but did not vary significantly among shelf positions. On the outer shelf, the main indicator taxa (tabulate Acropora) were mostly responsible for community dissimilarity, whereas contribution to dissimilarity was distributed across many taxa on the inner shelf. Our results highlight that community dynamics are not well captured by aggregated indices such as coral cover alone, and that the response of ecological communities to disturbance depends on their composition and exposure to chronic stressors. View Full-Text
Keywords: Acropora; benthic assemblages; chronic stressor; disassembly; disturbance; Great Barrier Reef; hard coral cover; reassembly Acropora; benthic assemblages; chronic stressor; disassembly; disturbance; Great Barrier Reef; hard coral cover; reassembly
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Mellin, C.; Thompson, A.; Jonker, M.J.; Emslie, M.J. Cross-Shelf Variation in Coral Community Response to Disturbance on the Great Barrier Reef. Diversity 2019, 11, 38.

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