Mucous sheet production in Porites: an effective bioindicator of sediment related pressures

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Some coral species of the genus Porites can produce thick mucous sheets that partially or completely envelope the colony's surface. This phenomenon has been reported many times, but the cause and ecological significance remains unclear. In this study, sheet production was examined in response to elevated suspended sediment concentrations associated with a large-scale, extended dredging project on a coral reef. Approximately 400 corals at 16 locations situated from 0.2–33 km from the excavation area were examined at fortnightly intervals over the 1.5 year dredging campaign. Mucous sheets were observed on 447 occasions (from 10,600 observations), with average mucous prevalence ranging from 0–10%. Overall 74 ± 5% of the colonies <1.5 km from the dredging produced one or more sheets. High levels of mucous coverage (≥95% of the colony surface) was observed on 68 occasions, and 82% of these occurred at sites close to the dredging. Approximately 50% of colonies produced ≥3 sheets over the monitoring period, and 90% of these were located close to the dredging. In contrast, at distantly located reference sites (>20 km away), mean mucous sheet prevalence was very low (0.2% ± 0.1), no colonies produced more than 1 sheet, and only 1 colony was observed with high mucous coverage. In a laboratory-based experiment, explants of Porites spp. exposed to fine silt also produced mucous sheets (105 sheets recorded in 1100 observations), with nearly 30% of the fragments exposed to repeated sediment deposition events of 10 and 20 mg cm−2 d−1 producing 2 new sheets over the 28 day exposure period. These multiple lines of evidence suggest a close association between mucous sheet formation and sediment load, and that sheet formation and sloughing are an additional mechanism used by massive Porites spp. to clear their surfaces when sediment loads become too high. These results suggest that mucous sheet formation is an effective bioindicator of sediment exposure.

Peer-reviewedYes
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276-285
Number of pages10
JournalECOLOGICAL INDICATORS
Volume77
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2017


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