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A brief photo guide

to the shallow-water octocorals


of the Rowley Shoals,
Western Australia
Katharina Fabricius
Australian Institute of Marine Science
PMB 3, Townsville Q4810
Email: k.fabricius@aims.gov.au

Report to the Department of Environment and Conservation,


Government of Western Australia.
January 2008

Contents:
Summary: The octocoral fauna of the Rowley Shoals ...............................................................................................................................................................2
Leather corals - octocorals related to Sarcophyton (family Alcyoniidae) .............................................................................................................................6
Sinularia spp. ...............................................................................................................................................................................................................................8
Dampia pocilloporaeformis.........................................................................................................................................................................................................9
Cladiella spp. .............................................................................................................................................................................................................................10
Lobophytum spp.........................................................................................................................................................................................................................11
Sarcophyton spp.........................................................................................................................................................................................................................12
Arborescent octocorals related to Nephthea (families Nephtheidae and Nidaliidae) ............................................................................................................13
Nephthea spp. ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................14
Litophyton spp. ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................................15
Stereonephthya spp. ...................................................................................................................................................................................................................16
Scleronephthya spp. ...................................................................................................................................................................................................................17
Dendronephthya spp..................................................................................................................................................................................................................18
Lemnalia spp..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................19
Paralemnalia spp.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................20
Chironephthya spp.....................................................................................................................................................................................................................21
Siphonogorgia spp. ....................................................................................................................................................................................................................22
Gorgonians, sea fans, and sea whips (families Subergorgiidae, Melithaeidae, Acanthogorgiidae, Plexauridae, Gorgoniidae, Ellisellidae)...................23
Annella spp. ...............................................................................................................................................................................................................................24
Melithaeidae ..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................25
Acanthogorgia spp.....................................................................................................................................................................................................................26
Euplexaura spp. .........................................................................................................................................................................................................................27
Echinogorgia spp.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................28
Menella spp................................................................................................................................................................................................................................29
Astrogorgia spp. ........................................................................................................................................................................................................................30
Rumphella sp. 1 .........................................................................................................................................................................................................................31
Hicksonella spp..........................................................................................................................................................................................................................32
Ellisella spp. ..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................33
Junceella spp. ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................34
Other taxa: Blue coral, encrusting taxa, and taxa with large polyps (families Helioporidae, Clavulariidae, Xeniidae, Briareidae)...............................35
Heliopora coerulea (Blue coral) ...............................................................................................................................................................................................36
Clavularia sp. 1 .........................................................................................................................................................................................................................37
Xenia spp. ..................................................................................................................................................................................................................................38
Briareum sp. 1 ...........................................................................................................................................................................................................................39
1

Acknowledgements
Many thanks to Dr Suzanne Long, DEC Marine Science Program, for organizing and supporting the field surveys, and for creating the lay-out of this Report.
Many thanks also to the crew of the RV Solander, whose Maiden Voyage took us to the Rowley Shoals. And many thanks for fantastic help in the field in so
many ways by Jamie Colquhoun (AIMS WA, Cruise Leader), Suzanne Long (DEC), John Huisman (DEC/WA Herbarium), Eric Matson (AIMS Qld), Kylie
Cook (AIMS WA), Iain Field (AIMS/Charles Darwin University), Warren White (Wildlife Resources), Shannon Armstrong (DEC Marine Science
Program), Steve Dutton (DEC), Huw Dilley (DEC), Phil van Dyk (volunteer), and that Grey Reef Shark (Imperieuse Patrols). This study was funded by the
Australian Institute of Marine Science, and the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) of the Government of Western Australia.

The octocoral fauna of the Rowley Shoals


While this guide does not represent the complete octocoral fauna of the Rowley Shoals, it includes all of the most common forms found at less than 25 m
depth. This basic photo-based guide may assist non-specialists to get started studying this little-known group in Western Australias tropical coral reef
environments. More detailed descriptions to aid identification are given in the field guide Soft corals and sea fans (Fabricius and Alderslade 2001).
The images and identifications were made during biodiversity surveys of Western Australian octocorals at the Rowley Shoals, 1-17 December 2007. The
surveys consisted of a total of 58 transects at 18 sites (5 sites at Imperieuse, 6 at Clerke and 7 at Mermaid Reefs). Sites were spread across windward
(front), leeward (back), lagoonal and flank (northern and southern tips) locations. At each site, one transect was surveyed each at up to five depth zones:
<1 m (reef flat), 1 3 m (crest), 3 8 m, 8 13 m and 13 18 m (the latter was extended to 25 m depth at some of the flanks). Each transect covered ~100 x
2 m2 using a standardized ecological assessment method (Fabricius and Death 2001).
Octocoral communities in shallow-water Indo-Pacific coral reefs are dominated by the order Alcyonacea (soft corals and sea fans) with about 90 genera in 23
families, and one species in the closely related order Helioporacea (Fabricius and Alderslade 2001); the predominantly nocturnal group Pennatulacea was not
considered. Inventories were mostly conducted at genus level, since the identification of most species is not feasible in large-scale field surveys. This is
because a majority of Indo-Pacific warm-water species are not yet described, and species identification commonly requires microscopic examination.
Representative species of each genus were photographed, and these photos are shown here. Small colony samples were also taken and given to the Western
Australian Museum in Perth.

Twenty-nine genera of octocorals belonging to 13 families were recorded in the surveys (Table 1). Of these, 15 genera contain zooxanthellae
(endosymbiotic microalgae), and these light-dependent taxa tend to be predominantly found in shallow waters (above 20 m depth). These are the taxa that
would most likely be encountered in video transects. Twelve genera (recognizable by their bright red, yellow, orange or purple colours) do not contain
zooxanthellae, and at wave-exposed and clear-water environments such as the Rowley Shoals these taxa are predominantly found below 20 m water depth.
Two genera (Stereonephthya and Junceella) contain species with and without zooxanthellae.
The Rowley Shoals octocoral communities differed statistically significantly depending on depth and location, while no significant differences were
detected between the three reefs (Permutation analysis, Table 2, Fig. 1). Heterotrophic taxa (Dendronephthya, Melithaeidae etc) were associated with the
deep transects, phototrophic taxa (Sinularia, Sarcophyton, Lobophytum etc) were associated with intermediate depth, and no taxa were associated with the
species-poor shallow depths. Few species (Xenia, Clavularia, Paralemnalia) were associated with lagoons, otherwise differences between the remaining
locations (back, front or flanks) were weak.
The taxonomic richness (number of genera per transect) of octocorals progressively increased with transect depth from 2 to 15 m (Fig. 2). Richness was
similar on all three reefs, and differed only weakly between locations at greater depth (lagoons having lower richness at 10 m depth than the flanks and back
reef transects). Richness averaged 6.5 taxa per transect. The highest richness was recorded at the Mermaid Cod Hole at 13 18 m depth (20 genera per
transect), the northern flank of Clerke Reef at 13 25 m depth and the northern windward side near the northern flank of of Imperieuse Reef at 13 18 m
depth (each with 19 genera per transect). All three sites are flow-swept and wave sheltered sites, representing ideal environmental conditions for high
octocoral richness.

Literature:
Fabricius KE & Alderslade P (2001) Soft Corals and Sea Fans: A comprehensive guide to the tropical shallow water genera of the central-west Pacific, the
Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville. 264 pp, at http://www.aims.gov.au/pages/facilities/bookshop/bs-softcorals01.html
Fabricius KE & Death G (2001) Biodiversity on the Great Barrier Reef: Large-scale patterns and turbidity-related local loss of soft coral taxa. Pp 127 - 144
in: Wolanski E (ed) Oceanographic processes of coral reefs: physical and biological links in the Great Barrier Reef. CRC Press, London

Table 1: List of the families and genera found at the Rowley Shoals. P = Phototrophic taxa*, H = Heterotrophic taxa**.

Leather corals and


arborescent taxa

Alcyoniidae
Sinularia
Dampia
Cladiella
Sarcophyton
Lobophytum
Nephtheidae
Nephthea
Litophyton
Stereonephthya
Scleronephthya
Dendronephthya
Lemnalia
Paralemnalia
Nidaliidae
Siphonogorgia
Chironephthya

Phototroph/
Heterotroph

P
P
P
P
P

P
P
P+H
H
H
P
P

H
H

Gorgonians (sea
fans, sea whips)

Phototroph/
Heterotroph

Subergorgiidae
Annella

Blue coral,
encrusting taxa and
taxa with large
polyps
Helioporidae
Heliopora

Melithaeidae
Melithaea

Clavulariidae
Clavularia

Acanthogorgiidae
Acanthogorgia

Plexauridae
Euplexaura
Echinogorgia
Menella
Astrogorgia

H
H
H
H

Gorgoniidae
Rumphella
Hicksonella

P
P

Ellisellidae
Ellisella
Junceella

H
P+H

* Taxa that contain zooxanthellae. ** Taxa that do not contain zooxanthellae

Phototroph/
Heterotroph

Xeniidae
Xenia

Briareidae
Briareum

Figure 1: Principal components analysis of Rowley Shoals octocoral communities. Each point represents the community recorded within a transect (points
close together having similar communities. (a) Colours identify transect depth; (b) same analysis as in (a), but here the colours are used to identify transect
location. Species vectors point at the communities (transects) where a species was best represented (species names are abbreviated to the first 5 letters).
dendr

dendr

melit

melit

stere

stere
junce

junce
astgo

astgo

xenia

acant
lemna
annella
sipho
litop
menel

rumph

xenia
acant
lemna
annella
sipho
litop
menel

rumph

par.t
clavu

par.t
clavu
sin.f
nepht
briar helio

sin.f

par.c
dampi
cladi

nepht
briar helio

sin.c
Dim 2: 12.54%

Dim 2: 12.54%

sin.c
sarco

Mean depth (m):

sinul

Dim 1: 33.46%

lobop

par.c
dampi
cladi

2
5
10
15

sarco

Dim 1: 33.46%

Location:

sinul

lobop

Back
Flank
Front
Lagoon

Table 2: Permutation test to assess the differences in octocoral communities depending on depth, location and reefs.

df

MS

Perm-P

%SS

Depth

103.78

12.645

0.005

17.378

Location

16.76

2.042

0.005

8.418

Reef

12.29

1.497

0.065

4.115

51

8.21

70.089

Residuals

Octocoral richness (genera per transect)

Figure 2: Taxonomic richness of octocorals (number of genera per transect) in relation to depth, location and reef.

20

20

20

15

15

15

10

10

10

10

Depth (m)

12

14

Clerke

Imperieuse Mermaid
Reef

Back

Flank

Front

Location

Lagoon

Leather corals - octocorals related to Sarcophyton (family Alcyoniidae)

Sinularia spp.

Dampia pocilloporaeformis

Cladiella spp.

10

Lobophytum spp.

11

Sarcophyton spp.

12

Arborescent octocorals related to Nephthea (families Nephtheidae and Nidaliidae)

13

Nephthea spp.

14

Litophyton spp.

15

Stereonephthya spp.

16

Scleronephthya spp.

17

Dendronephthya spp.

18

Lemnalia spp.

19

Paralemnalia spp.

20

Chironephthya spp.

21

Siphonogorgia spp.

22

Gorgonians, sea fans, and sea whips (families Subergorgiidae, Melithaeidae, Acanthogorgiidae,
Plexauridae, Gorgoniidae, Ellisellidae)

23

Annella spp.

24

Melithaeidae

25

Acanthogorgia spp.

26

Euplexaura spp.

27

Echinogorgia spp.

28

Menella spp.

29

Astrogorgia spp.

30

Rumphella sp. 1

31

Hicksonella spp.

32

Ellisella spp.

33

Junceella spp.

34

Other taxa: Blue coral, encrusting taxa, and taxa with large polyps (families Helioporidae,
Clavulariidae, Xeniidae, Briareidae)

35

Heliopora coerulea (Blue coral)

36

Clavularia sp. 1

37

Xenia spp.

38

Briareum sp. 1

39