Remote coral reefs can sustain high growth potential and may match future sea-level trands. Nature Scientific Reports 2015

Abstract

Climate-induced disturbances are contributing to rapid, global-scale changes in coral reef ecology. As a consequence, reef carbonate budgets are declining, threatening reef growth potential and thus capacity to track rising sea-levels. Whether disturbed reefs can recover their growth potential and how rapidly, are thus critical research questions. Here we address these questions by measuring the carbonate budgets of 28 reefs across the Chagos Archipelago (Indian Ocean) which, while geographically remote and largely isolated from compounding human impacts, experienced severe (>90%) coral mortality during the 1998 warming event. Coral communities on most reefs recovered rapidly and we show that carbonate budgets in 2015 average +3.7 G (G = kg CaCO3 m−2 yr−1). Most significantly the production rates on Acropora-dominated reefs, the corals most severely impacted in 1998, averaged +8.4 G by 2015, comparable with estimates under pre-human (Holocene) disturbance conditions. These positive budgets are reflected in high reef growth rates (4.2 mm yr−1) on Acropora-dominated reefs, demonstrating that carbonate budgets on these remote reefs have recovered rapidly from major climate-driven disturbances. Critically, these reefs retain the capacity to grow at rates exceeding measured regional mid-late Holocene and 20th century sea-level rise, and close to IPCC sea-level rise projections through to 2100.

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Similar impacts of fishing and environmental stress on calcifying organisms in Indian Ocean coral reefs. Marine Ecology Press Series 2016

Abstract

Calcification and reef growth processes dominated by corals and calcifying algae are threatened by climate and fishing disturbances. Twenty-seven environmental, habitat, and species interaction variables were tested for their influence on coral and calcifier cover in 201 western Indian Ocean coral reefs distributed across ~20° of latitude and longitude and up to 20 m deep. These variables predicted more of the total between-site variance of calcifying organism cover (~50%) than coral cover (~20%). Satellite-derived environmental variables of temperature, light, and water quality predicted more of the coral and calcifier cover than feeding interactions when groups of related variables were analyzed separately. Nevertheless, when simultaneously evaluating all variables, the environmental variables better predicted coral cover, but proxies of feeding interactions better predicted calcifier cover. Coral and calcifier cover were most consistently negatively influenced by sea surface temperature distributions (right skewness), but the orangelined triggerfish Balistapus undulatus consistently had a strong positive association with coral and
calcifier cover. Herbivorous fish and Diadematidae sea urchins were not positively associated with coral and calcifier cover. A primary prey of B. undulatus, the rock-boring sea urchin Echinometra mathaei, had a strong negative association with coral cover and particularly calcifier cover. Island reefs had higher calcifier abundance than fringing reefs, which probably results from high Acropora and B. undulatus but low E. mathaei abundance. When comparing all variables and models, these taxonomic associations had more influence than environmental stress variables on calcifiers. Given the important predatory role of B. undulatus in controlling E. mathaei populations, fishing restrictions on this species could help attenuate calcification losses predicted by climate change.

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Environmental variability indicates a climate-adaptive center under threat in northern Mozambique coral reefs. Ecosphere 2017

Abstract

A priority for modern conservation is finding and managing regions with environmental and biodiversity portfolio characteristics that will promote adaptation and the persistence of species during times of rapid climate change. The latitudinal edges of high-diversity biomes are likely to provide a mixture of environmental gradients and biological diversity that meet the portfolio criteria needed for adaptive systems. Northern Mozambique and the Quirimbas Islands represent the edge of a coral reef diversity center with limited potential to expand because of geologic and oceanographic limits on the southern edges. This region does, however, have the potential to be its own discrete adaptive center if it contains climate refugia and there are environmental gradients that promote acclimatization, ecological reorganization, and natural selection. Consequently, to evaluate this potential we tested for strong regional environmental spatial heterogeneity that might indicate a climate-adaptive center. Additionally, we evaluated human influences and environmental and demographic data on fin fish, coral, and sea urchins in 66 reefs across ~4° of latitude to evaluate ecological changes and human threats. A number of clear gradients in environmental and human influences were observed. For example, temperature  increased and became more centralized and right-skewed, while water quality decreased to the south. Coral communities susceptible to thermal stress were found in the north where dispersed temperatures indicated a location with either tolerance to or refugium from recent thermal disturbances. Nevertheless, high coral diversity was found in southern deep-water channels. Further, spatial patterns for corals and fish differed indicating complex geographic-fishing-biodiversity gradients. Consequently, environmental conditions for an adaptive portfolio exist and include refugia for preserving climate-sensitive and for numbers of coral taxa. Fishing and urban threats were observable as reduced fish biomass, diversity, and body sizes but higher biomass of sea urchins. We observed that many remote and protected areas had fish biomass values lower than expected or near maximum sustainable yields. This indicates low compliance and widespread migratory fishing, which is reducing fish diversity below maximum levels. Recommendations to sustain this adaptive center are to maintain fish biomass > 500 kg/ha by increasing fisheries restrictions and compliance.

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Drivers and predictions of coral reef budget trajectories. Proceedings Of The Royal Society B-biological Sciences 2017

Abstract

Climate change is one of the greatest threats to the long-term maintenance of coral-dominated tropical ecosystems, and has received considerable attention over the past two decades. Coral bleaching and associated mortality events, which are predicted to become more frequent and intense, can alter the balance of different elements that are responsible for coral reef growth and maintenance. The geomorphic impacts of coral mass mortality have received relatively little attention, particularly questions concerning temporal recovery of reef carbonate production and the factors that promote resilience of reef growth potential. Here, we track the biological carbonate budgets of inner Seychelles reefs from 1994 to 2014, spanning the 1998 global bleaching event when these reefs lost more than 90% of coral cover. All 21 reefs had positive budgets in 1994, but in 2005 budgets were predominantly negative. By 2014, carbonate budgets on seven reefs were comparable with 1994, but on all reefs where an ecological regime shift to macroalgal dominance occurred, budgets remained negative through 2014. Reefs with higher massive coral cover, lower macroalgae cover and lower excavating parrotfish biomass in 1994 were more likely to have positive budgets post-bleaching. If mortality of corals from the 2016 bleaching event is as severe as that of 1998, our predictions based on past trends would suggest that six of eight reefs with positive budgets in 2014 would still have positive budgets by 2030. Our results highlight that reef accretion and framework maintenance cannot be assumed from the ecological state alone, and that managers should focus on conserving aspects of coral reefs that support resilient carbonate budgets.

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New paper from SPACES team members shows the positive correlation between the orange-lined triggerfish and calcifier cover

SPACES Co-investigators, Tim McClanahan and Nyawira Muthiga, have recently published the paper, Similar impacts of fishing and environmental stress on calcifying organisms in Indian Ocean coral reefs (Open Access– free to read) in the Marine Ecology Progress Series. They investigated coral and calcifier cover in 201 western Indian Ocean reefs. 

McClanahan and Muthiga found that coral and calcifier cover were negatively impacted by ocean temperatures and sea urchins. However, they also found that coral and calcifier cover were positively correlated with the orange-lined triggerfish, a small predatory fish. They found that reefs with higher calcifier abundance also had a higher abundance of orange-lined triggerfish and lower abundance of sea urchins.

The investigators surmise that orange-lined triggerfish may help reduce sea urchin populations. This is positive for reefs because sea urchins inhibit coral reef regeneration and growth when their numbers become too large. In addition, McClanahan […]

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