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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 316:95-103 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps316095

Intermittent upwelling and subsidized growth of the scleractinian coral Madracis mirabilis on the deep fore-reef slope of Discovery Bay, Jamaica

James J. Leichter1,*, Salvatore J. Genovese2

1Scripps Institution of Oceanography – 0227, University of California at San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, California 92093, USA
2Three Seas Program, Marine Science Center, Northeastern University, Nahant, Massachusetts 01908, USA

ABSTRACT: A 1 yr study was conducted across a 45 m depth gradient on the north shore of Jamaica to explore the hypothesis that depth-specific variability associated with thermocline oscillations effects growth rates of the scleractinian coral Madracis mirabilis. Multiple periods of high-frequency temperature variability were detected at 30 to 55 m depth, indicative of vertical transport of subthermocline water onto the reef slope at semidiurnal and shorter intervals. Cooling, expressed as cumulative degree-days below the depth-averaged daily temperature increased from 1.6°C d at 10 m to 50°C d at 45 and 55 m depth. The sum of the daily temperature variance increased almost 3-fold from 3.7 to 9.9°C2 from 10 to 55 m. Coral growth rates showed a bimodal distribution as a function of depth, with fastest growth (3.86 to 4.12 g yr–1) at 10 and 30 m, reduced growth (2.46 to 3.21 g yr–1) at 20 and 45 m, and slowest growth (0.97 g yr–1) at 55 m. To assess possible differences among sites differing with respect to the intensity of internal-wave forcing, growth rates of M. mirabilis were compared at 20 and 30 m depth in Jamaica with previous results from the Florida Keys. Overall growth rates were greater in Florida than in Jamaica, corresponding to greater internal-wave activity in Florida, and a similar effect of enhanced growth at 30 m was observed at both sites. Vertical oscillations of the thermocline are a widespread phenomenon, and may contribute to patterns of coral growth in a variety of deep reef environments.

KEY WORDS: Coral growth · Internal waves · Deep reefs · Madracis mirabilis

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