Project description:AIM: Coral reef communities occurring in deeper waters have received little research effort compared to their shallow-water counterparts, and even such basic information as their location and extent are currently unknown throughout most of the world. Using the Great Barrier Reef as a case study, habitat suitability modelling is used to predict the distribution of deep-water coral reef communities on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. We test the effectiveness of a range of geophysical and environmental variables for predicting the location of deep-water coral reef communities on the Great Barrier Reef. LOCATION: Great Barrier Reef, Australia. METHODS: Maximum entropy modelling is used to identify the spatial extent of two broad communities of habitat-forming megabenthos phototrophs and heterotrophs. Models were generated using combinations of geophysical substrate properties derived from multibeam bathymetry and environmental data derived from Bio-ORACLE, combined with georeferenced occurrence records of mesophotic coral communities from autonomous underwater vehicle, remotely operated vehicle and SCUBA surveys. Model results are used to estimate the total amount of mesophotic coral reef habitat on the GBR. RESULTS: Our models predict extensive but previously undocumented coral communities occurring both along the continental shelf-edge of the Great Barrier Reef and also on submerged reefs inside the lagoon. Habitat suitability for phototrophs is highest on submerged reefs along the outer-shelf and the deeper flanks of emergent reefs inside the GBR lagoon, while suitability for heterotrophs is highest in the deep waters along the shelf-edge. Models using only geophysical variables consistently outperformed models incorporating environmental data for both phototrophs and heterotrophs. MAIN CONCLUSION: Extensive submerged coral reef communities that are currently undocumented are likely to occur throughout the Great Barrier Reef. High-quality bathymetry data can be used to identify these reefs, which may play an important role in resilience of the GBR ecosystem to climate change.
Project description:Diuron is a herbicide commonly used in agricultural areas where excess application causes it to leach into rivers, reach sensitive marine environments like the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) lagoon and pose risks to marine life. To investigate the impact of diuron on whole prokaryotic communities that underpin the marine food web and are integral to coral reef health, GBR lagoon water was incubated with diuron at environmentally-relevant concentration (8 µg/L), and sequenced at specific time points over the following year. 16S rRNA gene amplicon profiling revealed no significant short- or long-term effect of diuron on microbiome structure. The relative abundance of prokaryotic phototrophs was not significantly altered by diuron, which suggests that they were largely tolerant at this concentration. Assembly of a metagenome derived from waters sampled at a similar location in the GBR lagoon did not reveal the presence of mutations in the cyanobacterial photosystem that could explain diuron tolerance. However, resident phages displayed several variants of this gene and could potentially play a role in tolerance acquisition. Slow biodegradation of diuron was reported in the incubation flasks, but no correlation with the relative abundance of heterotrophs was evident. Analysis of metagenomic reads supports the hypothesis that previously uncharacterized hydrolases carried by low-abundance species may mediate herbicide degradation in the GBR lagoon. Overall, this study offers evidence that pelagic phototrophs of the GBR lagoon may be more tolerant of diuron than other tropical organisms, and that heterotrophs in the microbial seed bank may have the potential to degrade diuron and alleviate local anthropogenic stresses to inshore GBR ecosystems.
Project description:The role of microorganisms in maintaining coral reef health is increasingly recognized. Riverine floodwater containing herbicides and excess nutrients from fertilizers compromises water quality in the inshore Great Barrier Reef (GBR), with unknown consequences for planktonic marine microbial communities and thus coral reefs. In this baseline study, inshore GBR microbial communities were monitored along a 124 km long transect between 2011 and 2013 using 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing. Members of the bacterial orders Rickettsiales (e.g., Pelagibacteraceae) and Synechococcales (e.g., Prochlorococcus), and of the archaeal class Marine Group II were prevalent in all samples, exhibiting a clear seasonal dynamics. Microbial communities near the Tully river mouth included a mixture of taxa from offshore marine sites and from the river system. The environmental parameters collected could be summarized into four groups, represented by salinity, rainfall, temperature and water quality, that drove the composition of microbial communities. During the wet season, lower salinity and a lower water quality index resulting from higher river discharge corresponded to increases in riverine taxa at sites near the river mouth. Particularly large, transient changes in microbial community structure were seen during the extreme wet season 2010-11, and may be partially attributed to the effects of wind and waves, which resuspend sediments and homogenize the water column in shallow near-shore regions. This work shows that anthropogenic floodwaters and other environmental parameters work in conjunction to drive the spatial distribution of microorganisms in the GBR lagoon, as well as their seasonal and daily dynamics.
Project description:Reef configuration and hydrodynamics were identified as the principle physical drivers behind coral reef fish aggregations on a mid-shelf patch reef in the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef (-16.845°, 146.23°). The study was carried out over a six-year period at a large reef pass on the oceanic margin of the northern Great Barrier Reef. Over this period (February 2006 -December 2012) tidal state, moon phase and surface seawater temperature were monitored. The timing of sampling was organised to assess variation in physical environment at daily, monthly, seasonal and annual time scales. Over these time scales, temporal patterns of occurrence of 10 species of coral reef fish from 5 families representing 5 defined trophic groups were monitored. The study incorporated 1,357 underwater visual census counts involving 402,370 fish and these estimates were collated with data on tidal state, water temperature, lunar and seasonal periodicity. Aggregated boosted regression trees analysed the univariate responses of fish abundance and species richness to the variation in the physical environment of the reef pass. Flood tides or when water flows from open water through the pass and into the Moore Reef lagoon had 2.3 times as many fish and 1.75 times as many species compared to counts made on ebb tides. Fish abundance was highest in late winter and spring months (Austral calendar), but notably when water temperatures were below the long-term mean of 27°C. Multivariate regression trees and Dufrêne-Legendre indicator predicted 4 out of 10 times the occurrence of all 10 species at any temporal scale ranging from hours to years. Flood tides were the principle driver underlying the occurrence of all 10 species regardless of their trophic classification and produced distinct seasonal assemblages, indicative of fishes aggregating to forage and reproduce.
Project description:In 1842 Charles Darwin claimed that vertical growth on a subsiding foundation caused fringing reefs to transform into barrier reefs then atolls. Yet historically no transition between reef types has been discovered and they are widely considered to develop independently from antecedent foundations during glacio-eustatic sea-level rise. Here we reconstruct reef development from cores recovered by IODP Expedition 310 to Tahiti, and show that a fringing reef retreated upslope during postglacial sea-level rise and transformed into a barrier reef when it encountered a Pleistocene reef-flat platform. The reef became stranded on the platform edge, creating a lagoon that isolated it from coastal sediment and facilitated a switch to a faster-growing coral assemblage dominated by acroporids. The switch increased the reef's accretion rate, allowing it to keep pace with rising sea level, and transform into a barrier reef. This retreat mechanism not only links Darwin's reef types, but explains the re-occupation of reefs during Pleistocene glacio-eustacy.
Project description:Mehdi Adjeroud, Mohsen Kayal, Christophe Peignon, Matthieu Juncker, Suzanne C. Mills, Ricardo Beldade, and Pascal Dumas (2018) Outbreaks of the coral predator Acanthaster spp., the crown-of-thorns seastar (COTS), cause major coral declines across the Indo-Pacific. However, the processes surrounding the initiation and propagation of COTS outbreaks are still unclear. We observed COTS outbreak abundances on several mid-shelf and inner-barrier reefs in the southern section of the New Caledonian lagoon, a multi-location initiation event that we expected to precede a broader region-wide disturbance. However, reef monitoring over 3 years revealed the highly localized and ephemeral character of these outbreaks. Outbreaks that were observed at four reef locations at the beginning of the survey simply faded away, without any specific management actions such as culling efforts. We also found no distinct reef biotope on which COTS outbreaks originated, although mid-shelf and inner-shelf barrier reefs seem to be favoured. New Caledonia has been exempted from to widespread regional COTS outbreaks, which is surprising given its proximity to the Australian Great Barrier Reef - a reef complex particularly vulnerable to COTS - and Vanuatu - where large-scale outbreaks were recorded during the same period. The availability of coral prey is probably not a limiting factor for the propagation of COTS outbreaks on New Caledonian reefs, given the high abundance and diversity of coral assemblages. Our findings reveal that localized and ephemeral COTS outbreaks can be naturally contained and do not necessarily result in widespread disturbances.
Project description:Microorganisms are fundamental drivers of biogeochemical cycling, though their contribution to coral reef ecosystem functioning is poorly understood. Here, we infer predictors of bacterioplankton community dynamics across surface-waters of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) through a meta-analysis, combining microbial with environmental data from the eReefs platform. Nutrient dynamics and temperature explained 41.4% of inter-seasonal and cross-shelf variation in bacterial assemblages. Bacterial families OCS155, Cryomorphaceae, Flavobacteriaceae, Synechococcaceae and Rhodobacteraceae dominated inshore reefs and their relative abundances positively correlated with nutrient loads. In contrast, Prochlorococcaceae negatively correlated with nutrients and became increasingly dominant towards outershelf reefs. Cyanobacteria in Prochlorococcaceae and Synechococcaceae families occupy complementary cross-shelf biogeochemical niches; their abundance ratios representing a potential indicator of GBR nutrient levels. One Flavobacteriaceae-affiliated taxa was putatively identified as diagnostic for ecosystem degradation. Establishing microbial observatories along GBR environmental gradients will facilitate robust assessments of microbial contributions to reef health and inform tipping-points in reef condition.