Seasonal organic matter dynamics in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon: contribution of carbohydrates and proteins

Christian Lønborg, Jason Doyle, Miles Furnas, Patricia Menendez, Jessica A. Benthuysen, Cátia Carreira

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Organic matter (OM) plays a fundamental role in sustaining the high productivity of coral reef ecosystems. Carbohydrates and proteins constitute two of the major chemical classes identified in the OM pool and are used as indicators of bioavailability due to their fast turn-over. We conducted three cruises across the southern shelf of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) during the early dry, late dry and wet seasons in 2009–2010 to 1) assess the relative bioavailability of particulate (POM) and dissolved (DOM) organic matter, 2) track the temporal and spatial variability in the carbohydrate and protein contribution to the OM pool, and 3) assess factors influencing protein and carbohydrate fractions of the OM pool. Generally, higher concentrations of particulate carbohydrates were found during the wet season, while similar concentrations of particulate protein were found during the three seasons. Both the dissolved carbohydrates and proteins had highest levels during the early dry season and lowest during the wet season, suggesting seasonal variations in the chemical composition of the DOM pool. Spatially, carbohydrates showed higher concentrations at the inshore stations, while no clear spatial pattern was found for the protein concentrations. On average carbohydrates and proteins accounted for a similar fraction (13±5 and 12±6% respectively) of POM, while carbohydrates accounted for a smaller fraction of the DOM than the proteins (6±3 and 13±10%). This suggests that the POM bioavailability was similar between seasons, while the DOM bioavailability varied seasonally with highest levels during the early dry season. This demonstrates that carbohydrates and proteins in the GBR have temporal and spatial variations. Our statistical analysis showed that 1) both carbohydrates and proteins were related with the POM and DOM C:N:P stoichiometry, demonstrating that both bulk estimates (stoichiometry) and specific compounds (CHO and Prot) provide useful measures of OM bioavailability in the GBR and 2) the carbohydrates and proteins levels were controlled by the amount of nutrients and POM, which in this system is mainly of plankton origin. Overall this study shows that the POM and DOM pools contain highly bioavailable compounds and that carbohydrate and proteins could play an important role in sustaining the productivity of the GBR.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-105
Number of pages11
JournalContinental Shelf Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Carbohydrates
  • Dissolved organic matter
  • Great Barrier Reef
  • Particulate organic matter
  • Proteins
  • Tropical

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