A meta-analysis to assess long-term spatiotemporal changes of benthic coral and macroalgae cover in the Mexican Caribbean.
ABSTRACT: Coral reefs in the wider Caribbean declined in hard coral cover by ~80% since the 1970s, but spatiotemporal analyses for sub-regions are lacking. Here, we explored benthic change patterns in the Mexican Caribbean reefs through meta-analysis between 1978 and 2016 including 125 coral reef sites. Findings revealed that hard coral cover decreased from ~26% in the 1970s to 16% in 2016, whereas macroalgae cover increased to ~30% in 2016. Both groups showed high spatiotemporal variability. Hard coral cover declined in total by 12% from 1978 to 2004 but increased again by 5% between 2005 and 2016 indicating some coral recovery after the 2005 mass bleaching event and hurricane impacts. In 2016, more than 80% of studied reefs were dominated by macroalgae, while only 15% were dominated by hard corals. This stands in contrast to 1978 when all reef sites surveyed were dominated by hard corals. This study is among the first within the Caribbean region that reports local recovery in coral cover in the Caribbean, while other Caribbean reefs have failed to recover. Most Mexican Caribbean coral reefs are now no longer dominated by hard corals. In order to prevent further reef degradation, viable and reliable conservation alternatives are required.
Project description:Coral reefs experience phase shifts from coral- to algae-dominated benthic communities, which could affect the interplay between processes introducing and removing bioavailable nitrogen. However, the magnitude of such processes, i.e., dinitrogen (N<sub>2</sub>) fixation and denitrification levels, and their responses to phase shifts remain unknown in coral reefs. We assessed both processes for the dominant species of six benthic categories (hard corals, soft corals, turf algae, coral rubble, biogenic rock, and reef sands) accounting for > 98% of the benthic cover of a central Red Sea coral reef. Rates were extrapolated to the relative benthic cover of the studied organisms in co-occurring coral- and algae-dominated areas of the same reef. In general, benthic categories with high N<sub>2</sub> fixation exhibited low denitrification activity. Extrapolated to the respective reef area, turf algae and coral rubble accounted for > 90% of overall N<sub>2</sub> fixation, whereas corals contributed to more than half of reef denitrification. Total N<sub>2</sub> fixation was twice as high in algae- compared to coral-dominated areas, whereas denitrification levels were similar. We conclude that algae-dominated reefs promote new nitrogen input through enhanced N<sub>2</sub> fixation and comparatively low denitrification. The subsequent increased nitrogen availability could support net productivity, resulting in a positive feedback loop that increases the competitive advantage of algae over corals in reefs that experienced a phase shift.
Project description:Most coral reefs have recently experienced acute changes in benthic community structure, generally involving dominance shifts from slow-growing hard corals to fast-growing benthic invertebrates and fleshy photosynthesizers. Besides overfishing, increased nutrification and sedimentation are important drivers of this process, which is well documented at landscape scales in the Caribbean and in the Indo-Pacific. However, small-scale processes that occur at the level of individual organisms remain poorly explored. In addition, the generality of coral reef decline models still needs to be verified on the vast realm of turbid-zone reefs. Here, we documented the outcome of interactions between an endangered Brazilian-endemic coral (Mussismilia braziliensis) and its most abundant contacting organisms (turf, cyanobacteria, corals, crustose coralline algae and foliose macroalgae). Our study was based on a long (2006-2016) series of high resolution data (fixed photoquadrats) acquired along a cross-shelf gradient that includes coastal unprotected reefs and offshore protected sites. The study region (Abrolhos Bank) comprises the largest and richest coralline complex in the South Atlantic, and a foremost example of a turbid-zone reef system with low diversity and expressive coral cover. Coral growth was significantly different between reefs. Coral-algae contacts predominated inshore, while cyanobacteria and turf contacts dominated offshore. An overall trend in positive coral growth was detected from 2009 onward in the inshore reef, whereas retraction in live coral tissue was observed offshore during this period. Turbidity (+) and cyanobacteria (-) were the best predictors of coral growth. Complimentary incubation experiments, in which treatments of Symbiodinium spp. from M. braziliensis colonies were subjected to cyanobacterial exudates, showed a negative effect of the exudate on the symbionts, demonstrating that cyanobacteria play an important role in coral tissue necrosis. Negative effects of cyanobacteria on living coral tissue may remain undetected from percent cover estimates gathered at larger spatial scales, as these ephemeral organisms tend to be rapidly replaced by longer-living macroalgae, or complex turf-like consortia. The cross-shelf trend of decreasing turbidity and macroalgae abundance suggests either a direct positive effect of turbidity on coral growth, or an indirect effect related to the higher inshore cover of foliose macroalgae, constraining cyanobacterial abundance. It is unclear whether the higher inshore macroalgal abundance (10-20% of reef cover) is a stable phase related to a long-standing high turbidity background, or a contemporary response to anthropogenic stress. Our results challenge the idea that high macroalgal cover is always associated with compromised coral health, as the baselines for turbid zone reefs may derive sharply from those of coral-dominated reefs that dwell under oligotrophic conditions.
Project description:Spatial patterns of coral reef benthic communities vary across a range of broad-scale biogeographical levels to fine-scale local habitat conditions. This study described spatial patterns of coral reef benthic communities spanning across the 536-km coast of Kenya. Thirty-eight reef sites representing different geographical zones within an array of habitats and management levels were assessed by benthic cover, coral genera and coral colony size classes. Three geographical zones were identified along the latitudinal gradient based on their benthic community composition. Hard coral dominated the three zones with highest cover in the south and Porites being the most abundant genus. Almost all 15 benthic variables differed significantly between geographical zones. The interaction of habitat factors and management levels created a localised pattern within each zone. Four habitats were identified based on their similarity in benthic community composition; 1. Deep-Exposed Patch reef in Reserve areas (DEPR), 2. Deep-Exposed Fringing reefs in Unprotected areas (DEFU), 3. Shallow Fringing and Lagoon reefs in Protected and Reserve areas (SFLPR) and 4. Shallow Patch and Channel reefs (SPC). DEPR was found in the north zone only and its benthic community was predominantly crustose coralline algae. DEFU was found in central and south zones mainly dominated by soft corals, Acropora, Montipora, juvenile corals and small colonies of adult corals. SFLPR was dominated by macroalgae and turf algae and was found in north and central zones. SPC was found across all geographical zones with a benthic community dominated by hard corals of mostly large colonies of Porites and Echinopora. The north zone exhibits habitat types that support resistance properties, the south supports recovery processes and central zone acts as an ecological corridor between zones. Identifying habitats with different roles in reef resilience is useful information for marine spatial planning and supports the process of designing effective marine protected areas.
Project description:Coral reefs are under increasing pressure from anthropogenic and climate-induced stressors. The ability of reefs to reassemble and regenerate after disturbances (i.e., resilience) is largely dependent on the capacity of herbivores to prevent macroalgal expansion, and the replenishment of coral populations through larval recruitment. Currently there is a paucity of this information for higher latitude, subtropical reefs. To assess the potential resilience of the benthic reef assemblages of Lord Howe Island (31°32'S, 159°04'E), the worlds' southernmost coral reef, we quantified the benthic composition, densities of juvenile corals (as a proxy for coral recruitment), and herbivorous fish communities. Despite some variation among habitats and sites, benthic communities were dominated by live scleractinian corals (mean cover 37.4%) and fleshy macroalgae (20.9%). Live coral cover was higher than in most other subtropical reefs and directly comparable to lower latitude tropical reefs. Juvenile coral densities (0.8 ind.m(-2)), however, were 5-200 times lower than those reported for tropical reefs. Overall, macroalgal cover was negatively related to the cover of live coral and the density of juvenile corals, but displayed no relationship with herbivorous fish biomass. The biomass of herbivorous fishes was relatively low (204 kg.ha(-1)), and in marked contrast to tropical reefs was dominated by macroalgal browsing species (84.1%) with relatively few grazing species. Despite their extremely low biomass, grazing fishes were positively related to both the density of juvenile corals and the cover of bare substrata, suggesting that they may enhance the recruitment of corals through the provision of suitable settlement sites. Although Lord Howe Islands' reefs are currently coral-dominated, the high macroalgal cover, coupled with limited coral recruitment and low coral growth rates suggest these reefs may be extremely susceptible to future disturbances.
Project description:Documenting post-bleaching trajectories of coral reef communities is crucial to understand their resilience to climate change. We investigated reef community changes following the 2015/16 bleaching event at Aldabra Atoll, where direct human impact is minimal. We combined benthic data collected pre- (2014) and post-bleaching (2016-2019) at 12 sites across three locations (lagoon, 2 m depth; seaward west and east, 5 and 15 m depth) with water temperature measurements. While seaward reefs experienced relative hard coral reductions of 51-62%, lagoonal coral loss was lower (-?34%), probably due to three-fold higher daily water temperature variability there. Between 2016 and 2019, hard coral cover did not change on deep reefs which remained dominated by turf algae and Halimeda, but absolute cover on shallow reefs increased annually by 1.3% (east), 2.3% (west) and 3.0% (lagoon), reaching, respectively, 54%, 68% and 93% of the pre-bleaching cover in 2019. Full recovery at the shallow seaward locations may take at least five more years, but remains uncertain for the deeper reefs. The expected increase in frequency and severity of coral bleaching events is likely to make even rapid recovery as observed in Aldabra's lagoon too slow to prevent long-term reef degradation, even at remote sites.
Project description:Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll in the central Pacific are among the most remote coral reefs on the planet. Here we describe spatial patterns in their benthic communities across reef habitats and depths, and consider these in the context of oceanographic gradients. Benthic communities at both locations were dominated by calcifying organisms (54-86% cover), namely hard corals (20-74%) and crustose coralline algae (CCA) (10-36%). While turf algae were relatively common at both locations (8-22%), larger fleshy macroalgae were virtually absent at Kingman (<1%) and rare at Palmyra (0.7-9.3%). Hard coral cover was higher, but with low diversity, in more sheltered habitats such as Palmyra's backreef and Kingman's patch reefs. Almost exclusive dominance by slow-growing Porites on Kingman's patch reefs provides indirect evidence of competitive exclusion, probably late in a successional sequence. In contrast, the more exposed forereef habitats at both Kingman and Palmyra had higher coral diversity and were characterized by fast-growing corals (e.g., Acropora and Pocillopora), indicative of more dynamic environments. In general at both locations, soft coral cover increased with depth, likely reflecting increasingly efficient heterotrophic abilities. CCA and fleshy macroalgae cover decreased with depth, likely due to reduced light. Cover of other calcified macroalgae, predominantly Halimeda, increased with depth. This likely reflects the ability of many calcifying macroalgae to efficiently harvest light at deeper depths, in combination with an increased nutrient supply from upwelling promoting growth. At Palmyra, patterns of hard coral cover with depth were inconsistent, but cover peaked at mid-depths at Kingman. On Kingman's forereef, benthic community composition was strongly related to wave energy, with hard coral cover decreasing and becoming more spatially clustered with increased wave energy, likely as a result of physical damage leading to patches of coral in localized shelter. In contrast, the cover of turf algae at Kingman was positively related to wave energy, reflecting their ability to rapidly colonize newly available space. No significant patterns with wave energy were observed on Palmyra's forereef, suggesting that a more detailed model is required to study biophysical coupling there. Kingman, Palmyra, and other remote oceanic reefs provide interesting case studies to explore biophysical influences on benthic ecology and dynamics.
Project description:Coral reefs are facing a biodiversity crisis due to increasing human impacts, consequently, one third of reef-building corals have an elevated risk of extinction. Logistic challenges prevent broad-scale species-level monitoring of hard corals; hence it has become critical that effective proxy indicators of species richness are established. This study tests how accurately three potential proxy indicators (generic richness on belt transects, generic richness on point-intercept transects and percent live hard coral cover on point-intercept transects) predict coral species richness at three different locations and two analytical scales. Generic richness (measured on a belt transect) was found to be the most effective predictor variable, with significant positive linear relationships across locations and scales. Percent live hard coral cover consistently performed poorly as an indicator of coral species richness. This study advances the practical framework for optimizing coral reef monitoring programs and empirically demonstrates that generic richness offers an effective way to predict coral species richness with a moderate level of precision. While the accuracy of species richness estimates will decrease in communities dominated by species-rich genera (e.g. Acropora), generic richness provides a useful measure of phylogenetic diversity and incorporating this metric into monitoring programs will increase the likelihood that changes in coral species diversity can be detected.
Project description:Coral reefs experienced the third global bleaching event in 2015-2016 due to high sea-surface temperature (SST) anomalies. Declines in net carbonate production associated with coral bleaching are implicated in reef structural collapse and cascading impacts for adjacent coral reef islands. We present the first carbonate budget study of a reef platform surface (reef crest and reef flat) in the southern Maldives and the first record of upper reef flat condition in the central Indian Ocean post the 2015-2016 coral bleaching event. Scleractinian corals were the primary carbonate producers, with live coral cover averaging between 11.1?±?6.5 and 31.2?±?21.8% and dominated by massive corals. Gross carbonate production rates averaged 5.9?±?2.5?G (kg CaCO3 m2 yr-1). Bioerosion was estimated at 3.4?±?0.4?G, resulting in an average net carbonate production rate of 2.5?±?2.4?G. Comparison of results with a study of the fore-reef slope highlights major differences in post-bleaching carbonate budget state between the fore-reef slope and the reef platform surface. The positive reef flat carbonate budget is attributed to the persistence of massive corals (Porites spp. and Heliopora spp.) through the bleaching event.
Project description:Dramatic coral loss has significantly altered many Caribbean reefs, with potentially important consequences for the ecological functions and ecosystem services provided by reef systems. Many studies examine coral loss and its causes-and often presume a universal decline of ecosystem services with coral loss-rather than evaluating the range of possible outcomes for a diversity of ecosystem functions and services at reefs varying in coral cover. We evaluate 10 key ecosystem metrics, relating to a variety of different reef ecosystem functions and services, on 328 Caribbean reefs varying in coral cover. We focus on the range and variability of these metrics rather than on mean responses. In contrast to a prevailing paradigm, we document high variability for a variety of metrics, and for many the range of outcomes is not related to coral cover. We find numerous "bright spots," where herbivorous fish biomass, density of large fishes, fishery value, and/or fish species richness are high, despite low coral cover. Although it remains critical to protect and restore corals, understanding variability in ecosystem metrics among low-coral reefs can facilitate the maintenance of reefs with sustained functions and services as we work to restore degraded systems. This framework can be applied to other ecosystems in the Anthropocene to better understand variance in ecosystem service outcomes and identify where and why bright spots exist.
Project description:Shift transitions in dominance on coral reefs from hard coral cover to fleshy macroalgae are having negative effects on Caribbean coral reef communities. Data on spatiotemporal changes in biodiversity during these modifications are important for decision support for coral reef biodiversity protection. The main objective of this study is to detect the spatiotemporal patterns of coral reef fish diversity during this transition using additive diversity-partitioning analysis. We examined ?, ? and ? fish diversity from 2000 to 2010, during which time a shift transition occurred at Mahahual Reef, located in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Data on coral reef fish and benthic communities were obtained from 12 transects per geomorphological unit (GU) in two GUs (reef slope and terrace) over six years (2000, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010). Spatial analysis within and between the GUs indicated that the ?-diversity was primarily related to higher ?-diversity. Throughout the six study years, there were losses of ?, ? and ?-diversity associated spatially with the shallow (reef slope) and deeper (reef terrace) GUs and temporally with the transition in cover from mound corals to fleshy macroalgae and boulder corals. Despite a drastic reduction in the number of species over time, ?-diversity continues to be the highest component of ?-diversity. The shift transition had a negative effect on ?, ? and ?-diversity, primarily by impacting rare species, leading a group of small and less vulnerable fish species to become common and an important group of rare species to become locally extinct. The maintenance of fish heterogeneity (?-diversity) over time may imply the abetment of vulnerability in the face of local and global changes.