Hard non-branching coral on consolidated substrate in shallow to deep water
Subtidal coral ecosystems on consolidated substrate in shallow to deep water, dominated by non-branching hard corals.
Disclaimer: Ecosystem type descriptions are based on biophysical attributes identified in Central Queensland through expert advice and supported by scientific literature. Not all ecosystem types are mapped based on current inventory, and many of the ecosystems described here may also occur in other parts of Queensland.
Subtidal non-branching hard coral on consolidated substrate in shallow to deep water, predominantly on fringing reefs and the inner Great Barrier Reef shelf but also on reef flats, reef slopes, patch reefs, platform reefs or rocky foreshores. Non-branching corals include massive, submassive, plate/table, bushy, vase/foliose or encrusting growth forms. Growth forms of coral are influenced by biophysical factors including depth, light and currents. Generally, non-branching corals tolerate more turbid waters than branching corals (e.g. coral cores in Hervey Bay). Non-branching coral ecosystems can have high species diversity, particularly within the subtropics where both tropical and temperate species co-occur at the limit of their range.
Non-branching corals include those with a tolerance to low Water clarity, low/fluctuating Water temperatures and seasonal Period, suited to high latitudes and inshore (turbid) waters. High latitude corals occur from the subtropics southward into temperate waters, where well-developed reefs are usually replaced by coral communities on consolidated substrates (see type 100 and refer to Figure 1 Fringing reefs - Definition of terms and typical dimensions of reefs. There may be a change in dominant growth form from branching and other erect growth forms to either massive or encrusting. High latitude generalist species also found in the tropics include Goniastrea australensis, Turbinaria mesenterina and Turbinaria frondens. Specialists confined to high latitudes include Turbinaria bifrons, Turbinaria radicalis, Turbinaria conspicua, Acanthastrea lordhowensis, Acanthastrea hillae and Acanthastrea bowerbanki, together with the latter two in turbid, strong current influenced reefs of Shoalwater Bay.
Non-branching corals of inshore waters can also be significant reef-builders even in the subtropics. Massive corals can live for hundreds of years and grow to several metres in diameter, for example scientists have drilled cores from Porites spp. coral to document environmental change of the Great Barrier Reef. Corals of the families Dendrophyllidae and Merulinidae (formerly Faviidae) tend to be tolerant of low light and high nutrient conditions experienced on nearshore fringing reefs. Turbid water specialists of the inner Great Barrier Reef are capable of rapid growth, forming monospecific stands of many hectares. Both genera are heterotrophic (i.e. capturing planktonic prey as an alternative to photosynthesis), a distinct advantage in turbid waters.
The values of Queensland’s coral reefs are internationally recognised in the World Heritage and Ramsar conventions. The Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area is based on four criteria (vii), (viii), (ix), (x). The Ramsar convention also includes coral reefs as one of its wetland types which make up part of a site’s ecological character (a combination of the ecosystem components, processes and services of the wetland). The Great Sandy Strait Ramsar wetland also includes coral reefs (e.g. Woody and Round Island reefs, coral communities at Little Woody Island, and soft corals on coffee rock reef). Shoalwater and Corio Bays Ramsar wetland and the Moreton Bay Ramsar wetland also includes fringing coral reefs.
Non-branching corals may be significant reef-building species on mainland fringing reefs, islands of the inner continental shelf and in turbid waters, have high coral cover double that of shelf reefs, or represent large old individuals (e.g. Porites spp. and Psammocora spp. brain corals). These create structural substrates valued for their recreational (snorkelling, spear-fishing, angling), tourism and aesthetic values. They also occur on rocky reefs at high latitudes. They form important fish habitats for a variety of coral-dwelling fish species (and support major line fin fisheries) and sharks. Certain colourful non-branching corals are targeted by aquarium collectors and may have restricted range (e.g. Acanthastrea lordhowensis).
Coral reefs and communities also stabilise the shoreline preventing erosion and protect the coastline by moderating the impacts of waves.
Benthic depth 'Shallow (0–10m)', 'Deep (10-30m)' however mapped coral mostly occurred in shallow water to 8 metres
Structural macrobiota 'Hard coral - branching'
Period and Trend qualifiers are relevant to subtidal non-branching hard coral ecosystems that fluctuate in their extent and composition in response to freshwater and suspended sediment from storm, cyclone and flood events (e.g. Hervey Bay and Great Sandy Strait fringing reefs). Cover qualifiers are important for monitoring purposes, as the proportion of branching corals to non-branching corals can be informative and can characterise different types of communities experiencing different environmental conditions.
Non-branching corals in shallow to deep water constitute the dominant reef-building corals of inshore fringing reefs and coral communities. Non-branching coral fringing reefs and coral communities often occur in closer proximity to land and continental islands such as the Whitsundays, and in southern Queensland are a major feature of the Keppel Islands.
Dominant structural forms and genera vary in latitude and in proximity to the edge of the continental shelf and shoreline. Non-branching corals dominating Paluma Shoals reef complex in Cleveland Bay included the genera Montipora, Turbinaria and Porites (also branching Acropora spp.). At Shoalwater Bay and in Hervey Bay foliose, cabbage-like Turbinaria spp. corals and the flower-like submassive Goniopora spp. whose polyps are emergent in the daytime and are often mistaken for soft corals. Massive brain corals (Merulinidae, formerly Faviidae) are characteristic of Moreton Bay coral communities growing on rocky substrate and on old limestone reefs, but do not form significant reefs today.
The following relates to distribution of this ecosystem type within the Central Queensland mapping area:
Consolidation indicates other potential areas of inshore non-branching coral communities and reefs. Energy source (e.g. wave, currents and tides) and Energy magnitude propels sediment from the substrate into the water column. Water clarity is relevant because of suspended sediment in the water column either in response to wind-driven waves, or from sediment runoff in floods and cyclones. Freshwater influence and Freshwater volume are other water column attributes related to flood events influencing inshore non-branching coral ecosystems. Water temperature is critical to all corals as they are sensitive to extremes of heat and cold, resulting in bleaching due to the loss of endosymbiotic dinoflagellates (e.g. zooxanthellae) and therefore the ability to photosynthesise.
Last updated: 18 July 2019
This page should be cited as:
Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2019) Hard non-branching coral on consolidated substrate in shallow to deep water, WetlandInfo website, accessed 13 April 2023. Available at: https://wetlandinfo.des.qld.gov.au/wetlands/ecology/aquatic-ecosystems-natural/estuarine-marine/descriptions/82/