Abstract: Branching corals are a critical component of coral reef ecosystems for habitat, shelter and reef growth. The purpose of this study was to investigate the growth of important habitat-forming corals (e.g., Acropora muricata, Pocillopora damicornis, Isopora cuneata), 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). In doing so, current measurements of linear extensions were 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 at a wide range of locations from Lizard Island (14.67°S) to Davies Reef (18.85°S) and Heron Island (23.35°S), environmental factors such as temperature and aragonite saturation 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 provides the most comprehensive update of current branching coral growth rates in Australia and how they many been changed with climate change. As well, it evaluates the response of branching species to future climate change scenarios, looking at the effects of both temperature and pCO2. 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 working with Morgan Pratchett, Andrew Baird, Scott Heron and Neal Cantin (AIMS), 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.