In situ thermal dynamics of shallow water corals is affected by tidal patterns and irradiance

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Journal Article
Marine Biology, 2012, 159 (8), pp. 1773 - 1782
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We studied the diel variation of in situ coral temperature, irradiance and photosynthetic performance of hemispherical colonies of Poriteslobata and branching colonies of Poritescylindrica during different bulk water temperature and tidal scenarios on the shallow reef flat of Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Our study presents in situ evidence that coral tissue surface temperatures can exceed that of the surrounding water under environmental conditions typically occurring during low tide in shallow reef or lagoon environments. Such heating may be a regular occurrence on shallow reef flats, triggered by the combined effects of high irradiance and low water flow characteristic of low Spring tides. At these times, solar heating of corals coincides with times of maximum water temperature and high irradiance, where the slow flow and consequent thick boundary layers impede heat exchange between corals and the surrounding water. Despite similar light-absorbing properties, the heating effect was more pronounced for the hemispherical P. lobata than for the branching P. cylindrica. This is consistent with previous laboratory experiments showing the evidence of interspecific variation in coral thermal environment and may result from morphologically influenced variation in convective heat transfer and/or thermal properties of the skeleton. Maximum coral surface warming did not coincide with maximum irradiance, but with maximum water temperature, well into the low-tide period with extremely low water flow in the partially drained reef flat, just prior to flushing by the rising tide. The timing of low tide thus influences the thermal exposure and photophysiological performance of corals, and the timing of tidally driven coral surface warming could potentially have different physiological impacts in the morning or in the afternoon. © 2012 Springer-Verlag.
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