Abstract: Branching corals are a critical component of coral reef ecosystems for habitat, shelter and reef growth. The purpose of this study is to investigate the growth of important habitat-forming corals (e.g., Acropora muricata, and Pocillopora damicornis), at a range of locations along the east coast of Australia, taking advantage of locations where prior measurements of coral growth have been conducted (e.g., Lord Howe, Harriott 1999; Davies Reef, Oliver et al. 1983; Lizard Island, Oliver 1985). In doing so, current measurements of linear extensions can be directly compared to prior measurements and test for changes in coral growth, as have been reported for massive corals (De’ath et al. 2009). By investigation coral growth along a 2,345 km latitudinal gradient from Lizard Island (14.67°S) to Davies Reef (18.85°S), Heron Island (23.35°S) and Lord Howe Island (31°S), environmental factors such as temperature, aragonite saturation and light can be used to assess the main environmental controls on branching corals. Effects of these environmental parameters on growth rates of massive corals (e.g., Porites) are well-known (e.g., Lough and Barnes 2000) but are yet to be determined for branching species. This study will be the first to assess decadal changes in growth of branching species along the east coast of Australia. By monitoring coral skeletal growth, a better understanding of the future composition of coral reef communities will be vital for management, conservation, and fisheries.
Biography: Kristen completed her BSc in Canada studying biology. Her love of the ocean took her to Honduras where she volunteered as a marine research assistant at the Utila Centre for Marine Ecology. Kristen came to James Cook University to undertake a semester of course work being awarded a Graduate Certificate of Science in Marine Biology. Under the supervision of Morgan Pratchett, she completed her Honours year receiving her BSc Honours with first class distinction, studying summer growth rates of corals at Lord Howe Island. She is continuing her research with a PhD at the Centre of Excellence, studying the growth of branching corals along the east coast of Australia to assess for changes in growth and determining the key environmental drivers of these habitat-forming species.