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Coral reef carbonate budgets and ecological drivers in the central Red Sea: a naturally high temperature and high total alkalinity environment.The structural framework provided by corals is crucial for reef ecosystem function and services, but high seawater temperatures can be detrimental to the calcification capacity of reef-building organisms. The Red Sea is very warm, but total alkalinity (TA) is naturally high and beneficial for reef accretion. To date, we know little about how such detrimental and beneficial abiotic factors affect each other and the balance between calcification and erosion on Red Sea coral reefs, i.e., overall reef growth, in this unique ocean basin. To provide estimates of present-day reef growth dynamics in the central Red Sea, we measured two metrics of reef growth, i.e., in situ net-accretion/-erosion rates (Gnet) determined by deployment of limestone blocks and ecosystem-scale carbonate budgets (Gbudget), along a crossshelf gradient (25 km, encompassing nearshore, midshore, and offshore reefs). Along this gradient, we assessed multiple abiotic (i.e., temperature, salinity, diurnal pH fluctuation, inorganic nutrients, and TA) and biotic (i.e., calcifier and epilithic bioeroder communities) variables. Both reef growth metrics revealed similar patterns from nearshore to offshore: net-erosive, neutral, and net-accretion states. The average cross-shelf Gbudget was 0.66 kg CaCO3 m−2 yr−1 , with the highest budget of 2.44 kg CaCO3 m−2 yr−1 measured in the offshore reef. These data are comparable to the contemporary Gbudgets from the western Atlantic and Indian oceans, but lie well below “optimal reef production” (5–10 kg CaCO3 m−2 yr−1 ) and below maxima recently recorded in remote high coral cover reef sites. However, the erosive forces observed in the Red Sea nearshore reef contributed less than observed elsewhere. A higher TA accompanied reef growth across the shelf gradient, whereas stronger diurnal pH fluctuations were associated with negative carbonate budgets. Noteworthy for this oligotrophic region was the positive effect of phosphate, which is a central micronutrient for reef building corals. While parrotfish contributed substantially to bioerosion, our dataset also highlights coralline algae as important local reef builders. Altogether, our study establishes a baseline for reef growth in the central Red Sea that should be useful in assessing trajectories of reef growth capacity under current and future ocean scenarios
Spatial and seasonal reef calcification in corals and calcareous crusts in the central Red Sea.The existence of coral reef ecosystems critically relies on the reef carbonate framework produced by scleractinian corals and calcareous crusts (i.e., crustose coralline algae). While the Red Sea harbors one of the longest connected reef systems in the world, detailed calcification data are only available from the northernmost part. To fill this knowledge gap, we measured in situ calcification rates of primary and secondary reef builders in the central Red Sea. We collected data on the major habitat-forming coral genera Porites, Acropora, and Pocillopora and also on calcareous crusts (CC) in a spatioseasonal framework. The scope of the study comprised sheltered and exposed sites of three reefs along a crossshelf gradient and over four seasons of the year. Calcification of all coral genera was consistent across the shelf and highest in spring. In addition, Pocillopora showed increased calcification at exposed reef sites. In contrast, CC calcification increased from nearshore, sheltered to offshore, exposed reef sites, but also varied over seasons. Comparing our data to other reef locations, calcification in the Red Sea was in the range of data collected from reefs in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific; however, Acropora calcification estimates were at the lower end of worldwide rates. Our study shows that the increasing coral cover from nearshore to offshore environments aligned with CC calcification but not coral calcification, highlighting the potentially important role of CC in structuring reef cover and habitats. While coral calcification maxima have been typically observed during summer in many reef locations worldwide, calcification maxima during spring in the central Red Sea indicate that summer temperatures exceed the optima of reef calcifiers in this region. This study provides a foundation for comparative efforts and sets a baseline to quantify impact of future environmental change in the central Red Sea.