Variable responses of benthic communities to anomalously warm sea temperatures on a high-latitude coral reef

T.C.L. Bridge, R. Ferrari, M. Bryson, Renae Hovey, W.F. Figueira, S.B. Williams, O. Pizarro, A.R. Harborne, M. Byrne

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29 Citations (Scopus)


© 2014 Bridge et al. High-latitude reefs support unique ecological communities occurring at the biogeographic boundaries between tropical and temperate marine ecosystems. Due to their lower ambient temperatures, they are regarded as potential refugia for tropical species shifting poleward due to rising sea temperatures. However, acute warming events can cause rapid shifts in the composition of high-latitude reef communities, including range contractions of temperate macroalgae and bleachinginduced mortality in corals. While bleaching has been reported on numerous highlatitude reefs, post-bleaching trajectories of benthic communities are poorly described. Consequently, the longer-term effects of thermal anomalies on highlatitude reefs are difficult to predict. Here, we use an autonomous underwater vehicle to conduct repeated surveys of three 625 m2 plots on a coral-dominated high-latitude reef in the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia, over a fouryear period spanning a large-magnitude thermal anomaly. Quantification of benthic communities revealed high coral cover (>70%, comprising three main morphospecies) prior to the bleaching event. Plating Montipora was most susceptible to bleaching, but in the plot where it was most abundant, coral cover did not change significantly because of post-bleaching increases in branching Acropora. In the other two plots, coral cover decreased while macroalgal cover increased markedly. Overall, coral cover declined from 73% to 59% over the course of the study, while macroalgal cover increased from 11% to 24%. The significant differences in impacts and post-bleaching trajectories among plots underline the importance of understanding the underlying causes of such variation to improve predictions of how climate change will affect reefs, especially at high-latitudes. Copyright:
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere113079
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalPLoS One
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2014


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