Cross-shelf variation among juvenile and adult coral assemblages on Australia's Great Barrier Reef

Michelle J. Jonker, Angus A. Thompson, Patricia Menéndez, Kate Osborne

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Coral reefs are under increasing pressure from a variety of stressors, highlighting the need for information about the status of coral reef communities including the distribution, abundance and composition of juvenile and adult coral assemblages. This information is currently limited for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and is necessary for understanding the impacts of disturbances and the system's potential for recovery. This study reports juvenile and adult hard coral abundance and composition from 122 reefs on the GBR during a period of limited acute disturbance. The data represent baseline observations for juvenile hard coral assemblages spanning the longitudinal cross-shelf gradient of the GBR and 12 degrees of latitude and augment reported distribution of adult coral assemblages over the same scale with inclusion of additional reefs. Juvenile and adult coral assemblages reflected broad differences imposed by the gradient of environmental conditions across the GBR. The mean density of juvenile hard corals was lower in the inshore reefs (5.51 m2) than at either the mid-shelf (11.8 m2) or outer shelf reefs (11.2 m2). The composition of juvenile and adult coral assemblages covaried overall, although there were different relationships between these two life stages across the continental shelf and among community types. Dissimilarity between juvenile and adult coral assemblages was greater on inshore and outer shelf reefs than on reefs in the mid-shelf, although, there were differences in community types both within these shelf positions and those that spanned mid- and outer shelf reefs. Dissimilarity was greatest for Inshore branching Acropora and high for Southern Acropora communities, although very high coral cover and very low juvenile densities at these reefs precluded interpretation beyond the clear competitive dominance of Acropora on those reefs. Dissimilarity was also high between juvenile and adult coral assemblages of Turbid inshore communities suggesting water quality pressures, along with synergistic effects of other stressors, pose ongoing selective pressures beyond the juvenile stage. Conversely, relatively low dissimilarity between juvenile and adult coral assemblages on mid-shelf and lower latitude outer shelf reefs suggests pressures beyond those influencing settlement and early post-settlement survival were having less influence on the composition of adult coral assemblages.

Original languageEnglish
Article number85
Number of pages21
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Assemblage structure
  • Benthic assemblages
  • Community composition
  • Coral reef
  • Cross-shelf gradient
  • Habitat structure
  • Inshore vs offshore
  • Juvenile coral
  • Scleractinian

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