Late glacial to deglacial variation of coralgal assemblages in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

M. Humblet, D. C. Potts, J. M. Webster, J. C. Braga, Y. Iryu, Y. Yokoyama, R. Bourillot, C. Séard, A. Droxler, K. Fujita, E. Gischler, H. Kan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 325 cored submerged reefs along the shelf edge of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) to study sea-level and environmental changes and their impacts on reef communities and reef growth since the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Previous work defined five reef sequences (Reef 1–5) that span the last 30,000 years. Here we examined the variation in coralgal assemblages and their paleoenvironmental settings in late glacial to deglacial sequences from 23 holes cored seaward of the modern GBR in water depths from 46 to 131 m along four transects at three localities: Hydrographers Passage (HYD-01C and HYD-02A), Noggin Pass (NOG–01B), and Ribbon Reef (RIB-02A). We identified three coralline algal assemblages and eight coral assemblages indicating a broad range of reef settings from the shallow reef crest (0–5 m) to the deep forereef slope (>20 m). We document in detail for the first time the distribution and composition of reef communities that grew in the GBR during the LGM from 22,000–19,000 years ago. They included coral taxa that are major reef builders today: Isopora, Acropora gr. humilis, Dipsastraea gr. pallida, Porites, and Montipora. Prior to the fall in sea level to the maximum extent of the LGM, late glacial reef communities developed more proximally (landward) to the modern GBR along the shelf edge. Their distribution and composition reflect influences of the older Pleistocene basement depth and possible terrigenous sediment inputs. Post-LGM deglacial reef growth was vigorous in proximal sites and characterized by the accretion of a very shallow high-energy coralgal assemblage composed of medium to robustly branching Acropora, including A. gr. humilis, and thick algal crusts of Porolithon gr. onkodes associated with vermetid gastropods. More distally, reef growth was variably impacted by terrigenous input following deglacial reflooding of antecedent reef terraces. The coralgal succession and sedimentary facies in Noggin Pass indicate that an early drowning trend was linked to increased turbidity that was likely controlled by shelf morphology (narrow shelf, steep slope) and/or proximity to a paleo-river mouth. The deglacial succession in Ribbon Reef lacks typical shallow-water indicators, which may reflect influences of the particularly steep slope of the northern GBR shelf edge on reef zonation. A major sea-level jump at the onset of the Younger Dryas displaced reef habitats further upslope, forming a barrier reef system mainly composed of robustly branching acroporids distinct from the more distal sites. Our results highlight the importance of sedimentation and shelf morphology in addition to relative sea-level changes in controlling variations in reef community over centennial to millennial timescales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-91
Number of pages22
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Oceanography


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