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High-sediment tolerance in the reef coral Turbinaria mesenterina from the inner Great Barrier Reef lagoon Australia

Sofonia, J.J.; Anthony, K.R.N.

Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 78.4

2008


ISSN/ISBN: 0272-7714
DOI: 10.1016/j.ecss.2008.02.025
Accession: 037072501

Sedimentation is an important stressor on coral reefs subjected to run-off, dredging and resuspension events. Reefs with a history of high-sediment loads tend to be dominated by a few tolerant coral species. A key question is whether such species live close to their tolerance thresholds or near their niche optima. Here, we analyse experimentally the sediment tolerance of a spatially dominant coral, Turbinaria mesenterina (Dendrophylliidae), at nearshore reefs in the central Great Barrier Reef lagoon. Testing was conducted in a 5-week tank experiment under manipulated sediment loading and flow conditions. Physiological stress was assessed based on the behaviour of three key response variables: skeletal growth rate, energy reserves (lipid content) and photosynthetic performance. Because sediment effects are likely to vary between flow regimes, sediment and flow responses were tested using a full factorial design. Sediment loads greater than 110 mg cm(-2) had no effect on any of the physiological variables, regardless of flow (0.7-24 cm s(-1) ). Turbinaria mesenterina is thus tolerant to sediment loads an order of magnitude higher than most severe sediment conditions in situ. Likely mechanisms for such tolerance are that: (1) colonies covered in sediment (60-120mu m) in low-flow were able to clear themselves rapidly (within 4-5h); and (2) sediment provides a source of food. These results suggest that intensified sediment regimes on coastal reefs may shift coral communities towards dominance by a few well-adapted species. Abstract Copyright (2008) Elsevier, B.V.

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