BACKGROUND: Natural and anthropogenic stressors are predicted to have increasingly negative impacts on coral reefs. Understanding how these environmental stressors have impacted coral skeletal growth should improve our ability to predict how they may affect coral reefs in the future. We investigated century-scale variations in skeletal extension for the slow-growing massive scleractinian coral Siderastrea siderea inhabiting the forereef, backreef, and nearshore reefs of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) in the western Caribbean Sea.<br /><br />METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Thirteen S. siderea cores were extracted, slabbed, and X-rayed. Annual skeletal extension was estimated from adjacent low- and high-density growth bands. Since the early 1900s, forereef S. siderea colonies have shifted from exhibiting the fastest to the slowest average annual skeletal extension, while values for backreef and nearshore colonies have remained relatively constant. The rates of change in annual skeletal extension were -0.020±0.005, 0.011±0.006, and -0.008±0.006 mm yr⁻¹ per year [mean±SE] for forereef, backreef, and nearshore colonies respectively. These values for forereef and nearshore S. siderea were significantly lower by 0.031±0.008 and by 0.019±0.009 mm yr⁻¹ per year, respectively, than for backreef colonies. However, only forereef S. siderea exhibited a statistically significant decline in annual skeletal extension over the last century.<br /><br />CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Our results suggest that forereef S. siderea colonies are more susceptible to environmental stress than backreef and nearshore counterparts, which may have historically been exposed to higher natural baseline stressors. Alternatively, sediment plumes, nutrients, and pollution originating from watersheds of Guatemala and Honduras may disproportionately impact the forereef environment of the MBRS. We are presently reconstructing the history of environmental stressors that have impacted the MBRS to constrain the cause(s) of the observed reductions in coral skeletal growth. This should improve our ability to predict and potentially mitigate the effects of future environmental stressors on coral reef ecosystems.
Castillo, K. D., Ries, J. B., & Weiss, J. M. (2011). Declining coral skeletal extension for forereef colonies of Siderastrea siderea on the Mesoamerican barrier reef system, Southern Belize. PLoS ONE, 6(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0014615