24 May 2018
Coral-algal interactions such as this are more relevant than ever given the rapidly degrading coral reef ecosystem dynamics. Photo: K. Brown
Coral-algal interactions such as this are more relevant than ever given the rapidly degrading coral reef ecosystem dynamics. Photo: K. Brown

Tropical coral reefs are being degraded by human activities, and as a result, reef-building corals have declined while algae have increased.

Recent University of Queensland studies have focused on measuring algal abundance in response to human impacts, however we don’t entirely understand how natural changes in environmental conditions influence algal abundance and the condition of coral reefs.

A team of scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and UQ’s Global Change Institute undertook a two-year study tracking environmental conditions, reef composition and coral-algal competition across Heron Island, on the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.

Researchers discovered a novel relationship between how light and temperature interact to influence how much algae is on a reef.

According to UQ PhD candidate Kristen Brown, these changes in algal biomass further influenced the composition and frequency of coral-algal interactions.

Until now, how environmental factors interact to control the abundance of algae have mostly been inferred from seasonal peaks.

UQ PhD candidate Kristen Brown investigates how seasonal and spatial changes in environmental conditions influence the dynamics of coral-algal interactions at Heron Island, southern Great Barrier Reef. Photo: K. Brown“Competition between coral and algae can lead to reductions in coral growth and survival, which can have implications on the structure and function of coral reef ecosystems,” Ms Brown said.

“Algae and their interactions with corals are more relevant than ever, especially given the rapidly degrading coral reef ecosystem dynamics.”

Co-author GCI’s Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said a greater understanding of seasonal and spatial variation was important for interpreting the response of coral reef communities to any future perturbations.

The paper ‘The dynamics of coral-algal interactions in space and time on the southern Great Barrier Reef’ is published in Frontiers in Marine Science.

Brown KT, Bender-Champ D, Kubicek A, van der Zande R, Achlatis M, Hoegh-Guldberg O and Dove SG (2018) The Dynamics of Coral-Algal Interactions in Space and Time on the Southern Great Barrier Reef. Front. Mar. Sci. 5:181. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00181


Media:   Kristen Brown or 07- 3346 7330, UQ Global Change Institute: 0438 285 283

Photos: Kristen Brown

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