Inter-reef Halimeda algal habitats within the Great Barrier Reef support a distinct biotic community and high biodiversity

Nat Ecol Evol. 2021 May;5(5):647-655. doi: 10.1038/s41559-021-01400-8. Epub 2021 Mar 1.


Tropical marine biodiversity studies have been biased towards more accessible coastal habitats and shallow coral reefs, while deeper inter-reef habitats are less studied due to different survey challenges. One such inter-reef habitat is the 'bioherms' dominated by the calcareous Halimeda macroalgae. In the northern section of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Halimeda algal bioherms occupy >6,000 km2 of the inter-reef seabed, more than twice the area of adjacent shallow coral reefs. Here, we describe the biodiversity of the plant, vertebrate and invertebrate communities inhabiting Halimeda bioherms. By combining previous spatial mapping with legacy benthic biodiversity datasets, we find that Halimeda bioherms are a critically important complex habitat that hosts higher average species richness and diversity for both plants and invertebrates than the surrounding inter-reef (non-coral reef) seascape. Furthermore, at the community level, the structure of the bioherm-associated biotic assemblage is distinct from the non-bioherm community, with 40% of Halimeda bioherm-associated species not recorded at any non-bioherm sites. These findings improve estimates of the biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef and elevate Halimeda bioherms as a critically important inter-reef habitat. Regular long-term monitoring is required to detect potential impacts to inter-reef biodiversity and ecosystem structure and function under future climate change scenarios.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Biota
  • Coral Reefs*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Invertebrates