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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e60010. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0060010. Epub 2013 Mar 28.

Calcification by reef-building sclerobionts.

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Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.


It is widely accepted that deteriorating water quality associated with increased sediment stress has reduced calcification rates on coral reefs. However, there is limited information regarding the growth and development of reef building organisms, aside from the corals themselves. This study investigated encruster calcification on five fore-reefs in Tobago subjected to a range of sedimentation rates (1.2 to 15.9 mg cm(-2) d(-1)). Experimental substrates were used to assess rates of calcification in sclerobionts (e.g. crustose coralline algae, bryozoans and barnacles) across key reef microhabitats: cryptic (low-light), exposed (open-horizontal) and vertical topographic settings. Sedimentation negatively impacted calcification by photosynthesising crustose coralline algae in exposed microhabitats and encrusting foram cover (%) in exposed and cryptic substrates. Heterotrophs were not affected by sedimentation. Fore-reef, turbid water encruster assemblages calcified at a mean rate of 757 (SD ±317) g m(-2) y(-1). Different microhabitats were characterised by distinct calcareous encruster assemblages with different rates of calcification. Taxa with rapid lateral growth dominated areal cover but were not responsible for the majority of CaCO3 production. Cryptobiont assemblages were composed of a suite of calcifying taxa which included sciaphilic cheilostome bryozoans and suspension feeding barnacles. These calcified at mean rates of 20.1 (SD ±27) and 4.0 (SD ±3.6) g m(-2) y(-1) respectively. Encruster cover (%) on exposed and vertical substrates was dominated by crustose coralline algae which calcified at rates of 105.3 (SD ±67.7) g m(-2) y(-1) and 56.3 (SD ±8.3) g m(-2) y(-1) respectively. Globally, encrusting organisms contribute significant amounts of carbonate to the reef framework. These results provide experimental evidence that calcification rates, and the importance of different encrusting organisms, vary significantly according to topography and sediment impacts. These findings also highlight the need for caution when modelling reef framework accretion and interpreting results which extrapolate information from limited data.

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