Early-phase dynamics in coral recovery following cyclone disturbance on the inshore Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Yui Sato, Sara C. Bell, Cassandra Nichols, Kent Fry, Patricia Menéndez, David G. Bourne

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Coral recovery (the restoration of abundance and composition of coral communities) after disturbance is a key process that determines the resilience of reef ecosystems. To understand the mechanisms underlying the recovery process of coral communities, colony abundance and size distribution were followed on reefs around Pelorus Island, located in the inshore central region of the Great Barrier Reef, following a severe tropical cyclone in 2011 that caused dramatic loss of coral communities. Permanent quadrats (600 m2) were monitored biannually between 2012 and 2016, and individual coral colonies were counted, sized and categorized into morphological types. The abundance of coral recruits and coral cover were also examined using permanent quadrats and random line intercept transects, respectively. The number of colonies in the smallest size class (4–10 cm) increased substantially during the study period, driving the recovery of coral populations. The total number of coral colonies 5 yr post-cyclone reached between 73 and 122% of pre-cyclone levels though coral cover remained between 16 and 31% of pre-cyclone levels, due to the dominance of small coral colonies in the recovering communities. Temporal transitions of coral demography (i.e., colony-size distributions) illustrated that the number of recently established coral populations overtook communities of surviving colonies. Coral recruits (< 4 cm in size) also showed increasing patterns in abundance over the study period, underscoring the importance of larval supply in coral recovery. A shift in morphological composition of coral communities was also observed, with the relative abundance of encrusting corals reduced post-cyclone in contrast to their dominance prior to the disturbance. This study identifies the fine-scale processes involved in the initial recovery of coral reefs, providing insights into the dynamics of coral demography that are essential for determining coral reef resilience following major disturbance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-443
Number of pages13
JournalCoral Reefs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Coral recovery
  • Coral reef
  • Cyclone
  • Great Barrier Reef
  • Reef disturbances
  • Resilience
  • Yasi

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