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Decadal trends in a coral community and evidence of changed disturbance regime


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Wakeford, M and Done, TJ and Johnson, CR (2008) Decadal trends in a coral community and evidence of changed disturbance regime. Coral Reefs, 27 (1). pp. 1-13.

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A 23 year data set (1981–2003 inclusive) and the spatially explicit individual-based model ‘‘Compete’’ were used to investigate the implications of changing disturbance frequency on cover and taxonomic composition of a shallow coral community at Lizard Island, Australia. Near-vertical in situ stereo-photography was used to estimate rates of coral growth, mortality, recruitment and outcomes of pair-wise competitive interactions for 17 physiognomic groups of hard and soft corals. These data were used to parameterise the model, and to quantify impacts of three acute disturbance events that caused significant coral mortality: 1982—a combination of coral bleaching and Crown-of-Thorns starfish; 1990—cyclone waves; and 1996—Crown-of-Thorns starfish. Predicted coral community trajectories were not sensitive to the outcomes of competitive interactions (probably because average coral cover was only 32% and there was strong vertical separation among established corals) or to major changes in recruitment rates. The model trajectory of coral cover matched the observed trajectory accurately until the 1996 disturbance, but only if all coral mortality was confined to the 3 years of acute disturbance. Beyond that date (1997–2003), when the observed community failed to recover, it was necessary to introduce annual chronic background mortality to obtain a good match between modelled and observed coral cover. This qualitative switch in the model may reflect actual loss of resilience in the real community. Simulated over a century, an 8 year disturbance frequency most closely reproduced the mean community composition observed in the field prior to major disturbance events. Shorter intervals between disturbances led to reduced presence of the dominant hard coral groups, and a gradual increase in the slow growing, more resilient soft corals, while longer intervals (up to 16 years) resulted in monopolization by the fastest growing table coral, Acropora hyacinthus.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Resilience, chronic disturbance, Community structure, climate change, diversity
Journal or Publication Title: Coral Reefs
Page Range: pp. 1-13
Identification Number - DOI: 10.1007/s00338-007-0284-0
Additional Information: The original publication is available at
Date Deposited: 26 Feb 2008 11:04
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2014 03:30
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