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Dynamics of carbonate sediment production by Halimeda: implications for reef carbonate budgets

Carolina Castro-Sanguino*, Yves-Marie Bozec, Peter J Mumby

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Reef carbonate production and sediment generation are key processes for coral reef development and shoreline protection. The calcified green alga Halimeda is a major contributor of calcareous sediments but rates of production and herbivory upon Halimeda are driven by biotic and environmental factors. Consequently, estimating rates of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) production and transformation into sediment requires integrating Halimeda gains and losses across habitats and seasons which are rarely considered in carbonate budgets. Using seasonal rates of recruitment, growth, senescence and herbivory derived from observations and manipulative experiments, we developed an individual-based model to quantify the annual cycle of Halimeda carbonate and sediment production at Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef. Halimeda population dynamics were simulated both within and outside branching Acropora canopies which provide refuge from herbivory. Shelter from herbivory allowed larger Halimeda thalli to grow leading to higher rates of carbonate accumulation (3.9 kg and 0.9 kg CaCO3 m-2 y-1 within and outside Acropora canopies respectively) and sediment production (2.5 kg vs 1.0 kg CaCO3 m-2 y-1, respectively). Overall, 37% of the annual carbonate production was transformed into sediments through senescence (84%) and fish herbivory (16%), with important variations among seasons and habitats. Our model underlines that algal rates of carbonate production are likely to be underestimated if herbivory is not integrated into the carbonate budget and reveal an important indirect pathway by which structurally-complex coral habitats contribute to reef carbonate budgets suggesting that coral losses due to climate change may lead to further declines in reef sediment production.