Patterns of scleractinian coral recruitment at Lord Howe Island, an isolated subtropical reef off eastern Australia

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Cameron, KA & Harrison, PL 2016, 'Patterns of scleractinian coral recruitment at Lord Howe Island, an isolated subtropical reef off eastern Australia', vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 555-564.

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Changing oceanic conditions, particularly ocean warming and altered currents, can affect the reproductive success of corals. Improving the knowledge of coral reproductive processes at the marginal range limits of coral reefs is important for understanding the ecology of subtropical coral communities and the potential for coral species to expand their ranges in higher latitudes in the future. The extent of live coral cover around subtropical Lord Howe Island (LHI; 31°33′S, 159°05′E) approximately 600 km off the east coast of Australia, has been relatively stable over the last several decades; however, shifts in dominant species in the adult coral community have been reported. To examine the potential influences of recent altered currents and shifts in dominant scleractinian taxa within this community, this study examined spatial and seasonal variation of coral larval settlement at different habitats within the LHI reef lagoon. The study also assessed whether the assemblage of scleractinian corals settling at LHI has changed between 1990–1991 and 2011–2012. Mean densities of coral settlement in 2011–2012 (230 spat m−2 yr−1) were consistent with those reported in 1990–1991 and in other regions. However, changes in taxonomic composition were apparent with increases in the proportion of Acroporidae spat at some sites. Settlement of all taxa was highest over summer months, whereas during winter only one coral spat (Pocilloporidae) was detected. Coral settlement was highest and most taxonomically diverse at sites closest to the reef crest, where mortality of settled spat was also greatest. Rates of settlement were high compared with juvenile densities; hence, post-settlement mortality is also likely to be high. Post-settlement processes, influenced by local environmental conditions, are likely to be very important in structuring the adult coral communities within the LHI reef lagoon.