The measurement of ecosystem development in Caribbean coral reefs through topological indices
The exploration of gradients of development stages of coral reef ecosystems is a subject poorly studied, especially when they exhibit multiple degrees of geomorphological or structural development or both. The objective of the present work was to study the gradient of functional and structural maturity of the Mexican Caribbean coral reefs (CM). Here we analyzed three geomorphological zones that cover a gradient of 400 km in length in order to obtain coral reefs with different geomorphologies. Thirteen reefs were selected, for which 12 ecosystem development attributes and five topological indices were analyzed. The development attributes of coral reefs were estimated from trophic models constructed using Ecopath with Ecosim (EwE), while the topological indices were calculated from the predator-prey matrix obtained from each EwE model. Through a partial redundancy analysis (RDA) seven of the 12 development attributes (ascendency, overhead, development capacity, net primary production, ascendency/development capacity, overhead/development capacity and richness of functional group) were selected due their low or null collinearity. Using the developmental attributes selected in a non-metric multidimensional scaling (stress: 0.1) and analysis of similarities (r global: 0.828 and p: 0.001), we found a gradient of maturity that increases from north to south, i.e., northern coral reefs (e.g. Puerto Morelos) are less mature than southern coral reefs (e.g. Mahahual). On other hand, through a non-parametric ANOVA and a partial redundancy analysis (first axis: F-ratio = 62.054, p = 0.012; second axis: F-ratio = 1.591, p = 0.014; 100% of the total variance explained by the first two canonical axes) we detected that topological indices respond to development stages, in this way the control flow increases with the maturity while the intermediation, number of connections and number of interactions depredator-prey are inverse to maturity; therefore, topological indices can be used to describe development stages. The determination of a gradient of maturity in MC coral reefs should be considered in management and conservation policies, therefore different strategies must be implemented in ecosystems, because resilience and ecosystem response depend on them.