Projections of coral cover and habitat change on turbid reefs under future sea-level rise.
ABSTRACT: Global sea-level rise (SLR) is projected to increase water depths above coral reefs. Although the impacts of climate disturbance events on coral cover and three-dimensional complexity are well documented, knowledge of how higher sea levels will influence future reef habitat extent and bioconstruction is limited. Here, we use 31 reef cores, coupled with detailed benthic ecological data, from turbid reefs on the central Great Barrier Reef, Australia, to model broad-scale changes in reef habitat following adjustments to reef geomorphology under different SLR scenarios. Model outputs show that modest increases in relative water depth above reefs (Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5) over the next 100 years will increase the spatial extent of habitats with low coral cover and generic diversity. More severe SLR (RCP8.5) will completely submerge reef flats and move reef slope coral communities below the euphotic depth, despite the high vertical accretion rates that characterize these reefs. Our findings suggest adverse future trajectories associated with high emission climate scenarios which could threaten turbid reefs globally and their capacity to act as coral refugia from climate change.
Project description:Tropical reefs are declining rapidly due to climate changes and local stressors such as water quality deterioration and overfishing. The so-called marginal reefs sustain significant coral cover and growth but are dominated by fewer species adapted to suboptimal conditions to most coral species. However, the dynamics of marginal systems may diverge from that of the archetypical oligotrophic tropical reefs, and it is unclear whether they are more or less susceptible to anthropogenic stress. Here, we present the largest (100 fixed quadrats at five reefs) and longest time series (13 years) of benthic cover data for Southwestern Atlantic turbid zone reefs, covering sites under contrasting anthropogenic and oceanographic forcing. Specifically, we addressed how benthic cover changed among habitats and sites, and possible dominance-shift trends. We found less temporal variation in offshore pinnacles' tops than on nearshore ones and, conversely, higher temporal fluctuation on offshore pinnacles' walls than on nearshore ones. In general, the Abrolhos reefs sustained a stable coral cover and we did not record regional-level dominance shifts favoring other organisms. However, coral decline was evidenced in one reef near a dredging disposal site. Relative abundances of longer-lived reef builders showed a high level of synchrony, which indicates that their dynamics fluctuate under similar drivers. Therefore, changes on those drivers could threaten the stability of these reefs. With the intensification of thermal anomalies and land-based stressors, it is unclear whether the Abrolhos reefs will keep providing key ecosystem services. It is paramount to restrain local stressors that contributed to coral reef deterioration in the last decades, once reversal and restoration tend to become increasingly difficult as coral reefs degrade further and climate changes escalate.
Project description:Coral reefs are important habitats that represent global marine biodiversity hotspots and provide important benefits to people in many tropical regions. However, coral reefs are becoming increasingly threatened by climate change, overfishing, habitat destruction, and pollution. Historical baselines of coral cover are important to understand how much coral cover has been lost, e.g., to avoid the 'shifting baseline syndrome'. There are few quantitative observations of coral reef cover prior to the industrial revolution, and therefore baselines of coral reef cover are difficult to estimate. Here, we use expert and ocean-user opinion surveys to estimate baselines of global coral reef cover. The overall mean estimated baseline coral cover was 59% (±19% standard deviation), compared to an average of 58% (±18% standard deviation) estimated by professional scientists. We did not find evidence of the shifting baseline syndrome, whereby respondents who first observed coral reefs more recently report lower estimates of baseline coral cover. These estimates of historical coral reef baseline cover are important for scientists, policy makers, and managers to understand the extent to which coral reefs have become depleted and to set appropriate recovery targets.
Project description:Coral cover on reefs is declining globally due to coastal development, overfishing and climate change. Reefs isolated from direct human influence can recover from natural acute disturbances, but little is known about long term recovery of reefs experiencing chronic human disturbances. Here we investigate responses to acute bleaching disturbances on turbid reefs off Singapore, at two depths over a period of 27 years. Coral cover declined and there were marked changes in coral and benthic community structure during the first decade of monitoring at both depths. At shallower reef crest sites (3-4 m), benthic community structure recovered towards pre-disturbance states within a decade. In contrast, there was a net decline in coral cover and continuing shifts in community structure at deeper reef slope sites (6-7 m). There was no evidence of phase shifts to macroalgal dominance but coral habitats at deeper sites were replaced by unstable substrata such as fine sediments and rubble. The persistence of coral dominance at chronically disturbed shallow sites is likely due to an abundance of coral taxa which are tolerant to environmental stress. In addition, high turbidity may interact antagonistically with other disturbances to reduce the impact of thermal stress and limit macroalgal growth rates.
Project description:Understanding the dynamics of habitat-forming organisms is fundamental to managing natural ecosystems. Most studies of coral reef dynamics have focused on clear-water systems though corals inhabit many turbid regions. Here, we illustrate the key drivers of an inshore coral reef ecosystem using 10 years of biological, environmental, and disturbance data. Tropical cyclones, crown-of-thorns starfish, and coral bleaching are recognized as the major drivers of coral loss at mid- and offshore reefs along the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). In comparison, little is known about what drives temporal trends at inshore reefs closer to major anthropogenic stress. We assessed coral cover dynamics using state-space models within six major inshore GBR catchments. An overall decline was detected in nearly half (46%) of the 15 reefs at two depths (30 sites), while the rest exhibited fluctuating (23%), static (17%), or positive (13%) trends. Inshore reefs responded similarly to their offshore counterparts, where contemporary trends were predominantly influenced by acute disturbance events. Storms emerged as the major driver affecting the inshore GBR, with the effects of other drivers such as disease, juvenile coral density, and macroalgal and turf per cent cover varying from one catchment to another. Flooding was also associated with negative trends in live coral cover in two southern catchments, but the mechanism remains unclear as it is not reflected in available metrics of water quality and may act through indirect pathways.
Project description:Coral reef ecosystems are threatened by both climate change and direct anthropogenic stress. Climate change will alter the physico-chemical environment that reefs currently occupy, leaving only limited regions that are conducive to reef habitation. Identifying these regions early may aid conservation efforts and inform decisions to transplant particular coral species or groups. Here a species distribution model (Maxent) is used to describe habitat suitable for coral reef growth. Two climate change scenarios (RCP4.5, RCP8.5) from the National Center for Atmospheric Research's Community Earth System Model were used with Maxent to determine environmental suitability for corals (order Scleractinia). Environmental input variables best at representing the limits of suitable reef growth regions were isolated using a principal component analysis. Climate-driven changes in suitable habitat depend strongly on the unique region of reefs used to train Maxent. Increased global habitat loss was predicted in both climate projections through the 21(st) century. A maximum habitat loss of 43% by 2100 was predicted in RCP4.5 and 82% in RCP8.5. When the model is trained solely with environmental data from the Caribbean/Atlantic, 83% of global habitat was lost by 2100 for RCP4.5 and 88% was lost for RCP8.5. Similarly, global runs trained only with Pacific Ocean reefs estimated that 60% of suitable habitat would be lost by 2100 in RCP4.5 and 90% in RCP8.5. When Maxent was trained solely with Indian Ocean reefs, suitable habitat worldwide increased by 38% in RCP4.5 by 2100 and 28% in RCP8.5 by 2050. Global habitat loss by 2100 was just 10% for RCP8.5. This projection suggests that shallow tropical sites in the Indian Ocean basin experience conditions today that are most similar to future projections of worldwide conditions. Indian Ocean reefs may thus be ideal candidate regions from which to select the best strands of coral for potential re-seeding efforts.
Project description:Coral bleaching, triggered by elevated sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) has caused a decline in coral cover and changes in the abundances of corals on reefs worldwide. Coral decline can be exacerbated by the effects of local stressors like turbidity, yet some reefs with a natural history of turbidity can support healthy and resilient coral communities. However, little is known about responses of coral communities to bleaching events on anthropogenically turbid reefs as a result of recent (post World War II) terrestrial runoff. Analysis of region-scale coral cover and species abundance at 17-20 sites on the turbid reefs of Okinawa Island (total of 79 species, 30 genera, and 13 families) from 1995 to 2009 indicates that coral cover decreased drastically, from 24.4% to 7.5% (1.1%/year), subsequent to bleaching events in 1998 and 2001. This dramatic decrease in coral cover corresponded to the demise of Acropora species (e.g., A. digitifera) by 2009, when Acropora had mostly disappeared from turbid reefs on Okinawa Island. In contrast, Merulinidae species (e.g., Dipsastraea pallida/speciosa/favus) and Porites species (e.g., P. lutea/australiensis), which are characterized by tolerance to thermal stress, survived on turbid reefs of Okinawa Island throughout the period. Our results suggest that high turbidity, influenced by recent terrestrial runoff, could have caused a reduction in resilience of Acropora species to severe thermal stress events, because the corals could not have adapted to a relatively recent decline in water quality. The coral reef ecosystems of Okinawa Island will be severely impoverished if Acropora species fail to recover.
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:Mean coral cover has reportedly declined by over 15% during the last 30 years across the central Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Here, we present new data that documents widespread reef development within the more poorly studied turbid nearshore areas (<10?m depth), and show that coral cover on these reefs averages 38% (twice that reported on mid- and outer-shelf reefs). Of the surveyed seafloor area, 11% had distinct reef or coral community cover. Although the survey area represents a small subset of the nearshore zone (15.5?km(2)), this reef density is comparable to that measured across the wider GBR shelf (9%). We also show that cross-shelf coral cover declines with distance from the coast (R(2)?=?0.596). Identified coral taxa (21 genera) exhibited clear depth-stratification, corresponding closely to light attenuation and seafloor topography, with reefal development restricted to submarine antecedent bedforms. Data from this first assessment of nearshore reef occurrence and ecology measured across meaningful spatial scales suggests that these coral communities may exhibit an unexpected capacity to tolerate documented declines in water quality. Indeed, these shallow-water nearshore reefs may share many characteristics with their deep-water (>30?m) mesophotic equivalents and may have similar potential as refugia from large-scale disturbances.
Project description:We developed a linked land-sea modeling framework based on remote sensing and empirical data, which couples sediment export and coral reef models at fine spatial resolution. This spatially-explicit (60?×?60?m) framework simultaneously tracks changes in multiple benthic and fish indicators as a function of land-use and climate change scenarios. We applied this framework in Kubulau District, Fiji, to investigate the effects of logging, agriculture expansion, and restoration on coral reef resilience. Under the deforestation scenario, models projected a 4.5-fold sediment increase (>7,000 t. yr-1) coupled with a significant decrease in benthic habitat quality across 1,940?ha and a reef fish biomass loss of 60.6 t. Under the restoration scenario, models projected a small (<30 t. yr-1) decrease in exported sediments, resulting in a significant increase in benthic habitat quality across 577?ha and a fish biomass gain of 5.7 t. The decrease in benthic habitat quality and loss of fish biomass were greater when combining climate change and deforestation scenarios. We evaluated where land-use change and bleaching scenarios would impact sediment runoff and downstream coral reefs to identify priority areas on land, where conservation or restoration could promote coral reef resilience in the face of climate change.
Project description:Coral reef ecosystems are under dual threat from climate change. Increasing sea surface temperatures and thermal stress create environmental limits at low latitudes, and decreasing aragonite saturation state creates environmental limits at high latitudes. This study examines the response of unique coral reef habitats to climate change in the remote Pacific, using the National Center for Atmospheric Research Community Earth System Model version 1 alongside the species distribution algorithm Maxent. Narrow ranges of physico-chemical variables are used to define unique coral habitats and their performance is tested in future climate scenarios. General loss of coral reef habitat is expected in future climate scenarios and has been shown in previous studies. This study found exactly that for most of the predominant physico-chemical environments. However, certain coral reef habitats considered marginal today at high latitude, along the equator and in the eastern tropical Pacific were found to be quite robust in climate change scenarios. Furthermore, an environmental coral reef refuge previously identified in the central south Pacific near French Polynesia was further reinforced. Studying the response of specific habitats showed that the prevailing conditions of this refuge during the 20th century shift to a new set of conditions, more characteristic of higher latitude coral reefs in the 20th century, in future climate scenarios projected to 2100.