Gradients of disturbance and environmental conditions shape coral community structure for south-eastern Indian Ocean reefs

Zinke, Jens and Gilmour, James and Fisher, Rebecca and Poutine, Marji and Maina, Joseph and Darling, Emily and Stat, Michael and Richards, Zoe T. and McClanahan, Timothy R. and Beger, Maria and Moore, Cordelia and Graham, Nicholas Anthony James and Feng, Ming and Hobbs, Jean-Paul A. and Evans, Scott N. and Field, Stuart and Shedrawi, George and Babcock, Russ C. and Wilson, Shaun (2018) Gradients of disturbance and environmental conditions shape coral community structure for south-eastern Indian Ocean reefs. Diversity and Distributions, 24 (5). pp. 605-620. ISSN 1366-9516

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Aim To describe, model and assess the relative importance of environmental and climatic factors likely influencing the regional distribution of coral cover and assemblages with contrasting life histories and susceptibilities to bleaching. Location We compiled the first comprehensive empirical dataset for coral communities in the south-eastern Indian Ocean (SEIO), incorporating information from 392 sites along the western coast of Australia and offshore atolls/islands across ~19° of latitude. Methods We assessed hard coral cover and community composition to genus using point-intercept transects or point-count analysis of digital images taken along transects. We explored spatial variation in environmental conditions and in composition of corals with contrasting life histories. After de-trending the temporal patterns, we assessed the relative importance of environmental metrics to coral cover, life histories and bleaching susceptibility using a full subsets model-selection approach with generalized additive mixed models, accounting for both temporal and among site variation. Results The distribution of temperature, light, the frequency of temperature anomalies and tropical cyclones appear to be drivers of coral community structure. Functional diversity of low- to mid-latitude coral communities may convey some resilience to thermal stress, while higher latitude communities dominated by Competitive and Bleaching-Susceptible taxa may lack this functional resilience. These patterns likely reflect varying historical exposure to cyclones and temperature anomalies. Main conclusions As evident in recent years, changing background conditions and regimes of disturbance in coming decades will shift the distribution, functional diversity and resilience of coral reefs throughout the SEIO. The rate and magnitude of environmental change will ultimately determine the future of the tropical reefs and whether the higher latitude reefs provide some refuge from climate change. Our study highlights the need to quantify the distributional properties of key environmental metrics to better understand and predict reef condition through coming decades.

Item Type:
Journal Article
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Diversity and Distributions
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This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: JZinke J, Gilmour JP, Fisher R, et al. Gradients of disturbance and environmental conditions shape coral community structure for south‐eastern Indian Ocean reefs. Divers Distrib. 2018;24:605–620. which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.
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31 Jan 2018 14:00
Last Modified:
16 Sep 2023 01:37