Growth responses of branching versus massive corals to ocean warming on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
As oceans continue to warm under climate change, understanding the differential growth responses of corals is increasingly important. Scleractinian corals exhibit a broad range of life-history strategies, yet few studies have explored interspecific variation in long-term growth rates under a changing climate. Here we studied growth records of two coral species with different growth forms, namely branching Isopora palifera and massive Porites spp. at an offshore reef (Myrmidon Reef) of the central Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Australia. Skeletal growth chronologies were constructed using a combination of X-radiographs, gamma densitometry, and trace element (Sr/Ca) analysis. General additive mixed-effect models (GAMMs) revealed that skeletal density of I. palifera declined linearly and significantly at a rate of 1.2% yr−1 between 2002 and 2012. Calcification was stable between 2002 and 2009, yet declined significantly at a rate of 12% yr−1 between 2009 and 2012 following anomalously high sea surface temperatures (SST). Skeletal density of massive Porites exhibited a significant non-linear response over the 11-year study period (2002−2012) in that density was temporarily reduced during the 2009–2010 anomalously hot years, while linear extension and calcification showed no significant trends. Linear extension, density and calcification rates of I. palifera increased to maximum growth of 26.7–26.9 °C, beyond which they declined. In contrast, calcification and linear extension of Porites exhibited no response to SST, but exhibited a significant linear decline in skeletal density with increasing SST. Our results reveal significant differences in coral growth patterns among coral growth forms, and highlight both the resistant nature of massive Porites and sensitivity of branching I. palifera. Future research should target a broad range of coral taxa within similar environments to provide a community-level response of ocean warming on coral reef communities.