To assess the viability of high latitude environments as coral refugia, we report measurements of seasonal changes in seawater parameters (temperature, light, and carbonate chemistry) together with calcification rates for two coral species, Acropora yongei and Pocillopora damicornis from the southernmost geographical limit of these species at Salmon Bay, Rottnest Island (32°S) in Western Australia. Changes in buoyant weight were normalised to colony surface areas as determined from both X-ray computed tomography and geometric estimation. Extension rates for A. yongei averaged 51 ± 4 mm y−1 and were comparable to rates reported for Acroporid coral at other tropical and high latitude locations. Mean rates of calcification for both A. yongei and P. damicornis in winter were comparable to both the preceding and following summers despite a mean seasonal temperature range of ∼6 °C (18.2°–24.3 °C) and more than two-fold changes in the intensity of downwelling light. Seasonal calcification rates for A. yongei (1.31–2.02 mg CaCO3 cm−2 d−1) and P. damicornis (0.34–0.90 mg CaCO3 cm−2 d−1) at Salmon Bay, Rottnest Island were comparable to rates from similar taxa in more tropical environments; however, they appeared to decline sharply once summer temperatures exceeded 23 °C. A coral bleaching event observed in December 2013 provided further evidence of how coral at Rottnest Island are still vulnerable to the deleterious effects of episodic warming despite its high latitude location. Thus, while corals at Rottnest Island can sustain robust year-round rates of coral growth, even over cool winter temperatures of 18°–19 °C, there may be limits on the extent that such environments can provide refuge against the longer term impacts of anthropogenic climate change.
Ross C. L., Falter J. L., Schoepf V. & McCulloch M. T., 2015. Perennial growth of hermatypic corals at Rottnest Island, Western Australia (32°S). PeerJ 3:e781. Article.