June 30, 2009

Less Shift of Coral Reef to Algal Dominated Ecosystem Than Expected

A paper featured in the June 2009 issue of the online journal Ecology made good use of the Reef Check dataset, and concluded that fewer reefs than expected are dominated by algae.

John F. Bruno, Hugh Sweatman, William F. Precht, Elizabeth R. Selig, Virginia G. W. Schutte (2009) Assessing evidence of phase shifts from coral to macroalgal dominance on coral reefs. Ecology: Vol. 90, No. 6, pp. 1478-1484.

Abstract: Many marine scientists have concluded that coral reefs are moving toward or are locked into a seaweed-dominated state. However, because there have been no regional- or global-scale analyses of such coral reef “phase shifts,” the magnitude of this phenomenon was unknown. We analyzed 3581 quantitative surveys of 1851 reefs performed between 1996 and 2006 to determine the frequency, geographical extent, and degree of macroalgal dominance of coral reefs and of coral to macroalgal phase shifts around the world. Our results indicate that the replacement of corals by macroalgae as the dominant benthic functional group is less common and less geographically extensive than assumed. Although we found evidence of moderate local increases in macroalgal cover, particularly in the Caribbean, only 4% of reefs were dominated by macroalgae (i.e., >50% cover). Across the Indo-Pacific, where regional averages of macroalgal cover were 9–12%, macroalgae only dominated 1% of the surveyed reefs. Between 1996 and 2006, phase shift severity decreased in the Caribbean, did not change in the Florida Keys and Indo-Pacific, and increased slightly on the Great Barrier Reef due to moderate coral loss. Coral reef ecosystems appear to be more resistant to macroalgal blooms than assumed, which has important implications for reef management.


Click here to read the full paper.