Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Rapid increase in coral cover on an isolated coral reef, the Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve, north-western Australia

D. M. Ceccarelli A E G , Z. T. Richards A B F , M. S. Pratchett B and C. Cvitanovic C D

A UniQuest Pty Ltd, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia.

B ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4814, Australia.

C ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Research School of Biology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.

D Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, PO Box 787, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

E Present address: PO Box 215, Magnetic Island, Qld 4819, Australia.

F Present address: The Australian Museum, 6 College Street, Sydney, NSW 2010, Australia.

G Corresponding author. Email: dmcecca@bigpond.net.au

Marine and Freshwater Research 62(10) 1214-1220 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MF11013
Submitted: 21 January 2011  Accepted: 15 June 2011   Published: 29 September 2011

Abstract

Against a background of coral reef ecosystem decline, understanding the propensity for coral communities to recover after acute disturbances is fundamental to forecasting and maintaining resilience. It may be expected that offshore reef ecosystems are less affected by anthropogenic disturbances compared with reefs closer to population centres, but that recovery may be slower on isolated reefs following disturbances. To test the hypothesis that community recovery is slow in isolated locations, we measured changes in coral cover and relative abundance of coral genera over a 4 year period (2005–09) at Ashmore Reef, north Western Australia, following severe bleaching. The percent cover of hard coral tripled, from 10.2% (±1.46 s.e.) in 2005 to 29.4% (±1.83 s.e.) in 2009 in all habitats (exposed and lagoonal) and depth zones (2–5 and 8–10 m), and the percent cover of soft corals doubled, from 4.5% (+0.63 s.e.) in 2005 to 8.3% (+1.4 s.e.) in 2009. Significant shifts in the taxonomic composition of hard corals were detected. Our results imply that coral recovery in isolated locations can occur rapidly after an initial delay in recruitment, presumably through the interacting effects of self-recruitment and reduced exposure to additive impacts such as coastal pollution.

Additional keywords: Alcyoniina, coral bleaching, coral recovery, resilience, Scleractinia, temporal dynamics.


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