Coral reefs feed millions of people worldwide, provide coastal protection and generate billions of dollars annually in tourism revenue1. The underlying architecture of a reef is a biogenic carbonate structure that accretes over many years of active biomineralization by calcifying organisms, including corals and algae2. Ocean acidification poses a chronic threat to coral reefs by reducing the saturation state of the aragonite mineral of which coral skeletons are primarily composed, and lowering the concentration of carbonate ions required to maintain the carbonate reef. Reduced calcification, coupled with increased bioerosion and dissolution3, may drive reefs into a state of net loss this century4. Our ability to predict changes in ecosystem function and associated services ultimately hinges on our understanding of community- and ecosystem-scale responses. Past research has primarily focused on the responses of individual species rather than evaluating more complex, community-level responses. Here we use an in situ carbon dioxide enrichment experiment to quantify the net calcification response of a coral reef flat to acidification. We present an estimate of community-scale calcification sensitivity to ocean acidification that is, to our knowledge, the first to be based on a controlled experiment in the natural environment. This estimate provides evidence that near-future reductions in the aragonite saturation state will compromise the ecosystem function of coral reefs.
Understanding how invasive species affect key ecological interactions and ecosystem processes is imperative for the management of invasions. We evaluated the effects of invasive corals (Tubastraea spp.) on fish trophic interactions in an Atlantic coral reef. Remote underwater video cameras were used to examine fish foraging activity (bite rates and food preferences) on invasive cover levels. Using a model selection approach, we found that fish feeding rates declined with increased invasive cover. For Roving Herbivores (RH) and Sessile Invertivores (SI), an abrupt reduction of fish feeding rates corresponded with higher invasive cover, while feeding rates of Territorial Herbivores (TH) and Mobile Invertivores (MI) decreased linearly with cover increase. Additionally, some fish trophic groups, such as RH, SI and Omnivores (OM), had lower densities in reef sections with high invasive cover. These findings demonstrate that invasive corals negatively impact fish-benthic interactions, and could potentially alter existing trophic relationships in reef ecosystems.
Low-tech coral farming and reef rehabilitation have become important community-based coral reef management tools. At least in the wider Caribbean region, these strategies have been successfully implemented to recover depleted populations of staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn coral (A. palmata). They have also been used with relative success to recover depleted fish assemblages. Indirectly, coral reef rehabilitation has also resulted in enhanced benthic spatial heterogeneity, in providing multiple new microhabitats for fish and invertebrate species; have contributed to the recovery of coastal resilience, increasing the protection of shorelines against erosion; and have fostered an increased interest of the tourism sector as an enhanced attraction for visitors and recreationists. Nevertheless, there is still a need to implement best management practices to improve the success of these strategies. In this chapter, lessons learned from the Community-Based Coral Aquaculture and Reef Rehabilitation Program in Culebra Island, Puerto Rico, are shared from a multi-disciplinary standpoint. Learning from past experiences is a critical process to improve science. In a time of significant projected climate change impacts and sea level rise, improving the scale of coral farming and reef rehabilitation has become a critical tool for coral reef conservation. But multiple roadblocks must still be overcome.
Timely information is critical for coral reef managers and decision-makers to implement sustainable management measures. A Coral Reef Resilience Index (CRRI) was developed with a GIS-coupled decision-making tool applicable for Caribbean coral reef ecosystems. The CRRI is based on a five-point scale parameterized from the quantitative characterization of benthic assemblages. Separate subindices such as the Coral Index, the Threatened Species Index, and the Algal Index also provide specific information regarding targeted benthic components. This case study was based on assessments conducted in 2014 on 11 reef sites located across 3 geographic zones and 3 depth zones along the southwestern shelf of the island of Puerto Rico, Caribbean Sea. There was a significant spatial and bathymetric gradient (p < 0.05) in the distribution of CRRI values indicating higher degradation of inshore reefs. Mean global CRRI ranged from 2.78 to 3.17 across the shelf, ranking them as “fair.” The Coral Index ranged from 2.60 to 3.76, ranking reefs from “poor” to “good,” showing a general cross-shelf trend of improving conditions with increasing distance from pollution sources. Turbidity and ammonia were significantly correlated to CRRI scores. Multiple recommendations are provided based on coral reef conditions according to observed CRRI rankings.
Animal movements can facilitate important ecological processes, and wide-ranging marine predators, such as sharks, potentially contribute significantly towards nutrient transfer between habitats. We applied network theory to 4 years of acoustic telemetry data for grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) at Palmyra, an unfished atoll, to assess their potential role in nutrient dynamics throughout this remote ecosystem. We evaluated the dynamics of habitat connectivity and used network metrics to quantify shark-mediated nutrient distribution. Predator movements were consistent within year, but differed between years and by sex. Females used higher numbers of routes throughout the system, distributing nutrients over a larger proportion of the atoll. Extrapolations of tagged sharks to the population level suggest that prey consumption and subsequent egestion leads to the heterogeneous deposition of 94.5 kg d−1 of nitrogen around the atoll, with approximately 86% of this probably derived from pelagic resources. These results suggest that sharks may contribute substantially to nutrient transfer from offshore waters to near-shore reefs, subsidies that are important for coral reef health.
Submerged coral reefs (SCRs) are found on the continental shelves of the tropical regions of the world. Unlike shallow reefs, such submerged structures have been little studied in the world despite their ecological importance. We present the results of several explorations carried out between 2015 and 2017 in the Sistema Arrecifal Veracruzano National Park (SAVNP) and surrounding areas, which account for the presence of 18 SCRs both inside and outside the National Park. The location of these reefs was based on user information, literature and official documents. Through the use of echo sounder, the dimensions and morphological conformation of the reefs were identified. The protection of submerged coral reefs in the SAVPN is limited. They are not fully considered in the MPA creation decrees, and most of them are located in areas assigned to artisanal fisheries. Connectivity, fisheries, port activities and the lack of scientific information are issues to be attended by environmental authorities to guarantee the protection of these ecosystems.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch (CRW) operates a global 4-Month Coral Bleaching Outlook system for shallow-water coral reefs in collaboration with NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP). The Outlooks are generated by applying the algorithm used in CRW's operational satellite coral bleaching heat stress monitoring, with slight modifications, to the sea surface temperature (SST) predictions from NCEP's operational Climate Forecast System Version 2 (CFSv2). Once a week, the probability of heat stress capable of causing mass coral bleaching is predicted for 4-months in advance. Each day, CFSv2 generates an ensemble of 16 forecasts, with nine runs out to 45-days, three runs out to 3-months, and four runs out to 9-months. This results in 28–112 ensemble members produced each week. A composite for each predicted week is derived from daily predictions within each ensemble member. The probability of each of four heat stress ranges (Watch and higher, Warning and higher, Alert Level 1 and higher, and Alert Level 2) is determined from all the available ensemble members for the week to form the weekly probabilistic Outlook. The probabilistic 4-Month Outlook is the highest weekly probability predicted among all the weekly Outlooks during a 4-month period for each of the stress ranges. An initial qualitative skill analysis of the Outlooks for 2011–2015, compared with CRW's satellite-based coral bleaching heat stress products, indicated the Outlook has performed well with high hit rates and low miss rates for most coral reef areas. Regions identified with high false alarm rates will guide future improvements. This Outlook system, as the first and only freely available global coral bleaching prediction system, has been providing critical early warning to marine resource managers, scientists, and decision makers around the world to guide management, protection, and monitoring of coral reefs since 2012. This has been especially valuable during the third global coral bleaching event that started in mid-2014 and extended into mid-2017. The Outlook system is an integrated component of CRW's global decision support system for coral bleaching. Recent management actions taken in light of this system are discussed.
A major challenge for coral reef conservation and management is understanding how a wide range of interacting human and natural drivers cumulatively impact and shape these ecosystems. Despite the importance of understanding these interactions, a methodological framework to synthesize spatially explicit data of such drivers is lacking. To fill this gap, we established a transferable data synthesis methodology to integrate spatial data on environmental and anthropogenic drivers of coral reefs, and applied this methodology to a case study location–the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI). Environmental drivers were derived from time series (2002–2013) of climatological ranges and anomalies of remotely sensed sea surface temperature, chlorophyll-a, irradiance, and wave power. Anthropogenic drivers were characterized using empirically derived and modeled datasets of spatial fisheries catch, sedimentation, nutrient input, new development, habitat modification, and invasive species. Within our case study system, resulting driver maps showed high spatial heterogeneity across the MHI, with anthropogenic drivers generally greatest and most widespread on O‘ahu, where 70% of the state’s population resides, while sedimentation and nutrients were dominant in less populated islands. Together, the spatial integration of environmental and anthropogenic driver data described here provides a first-ever synthetic approach to visualize how the drivers of coral reef state vary in space and demonstrates a methodological framework for implementation of this approach in other regions of the world. By quantifying and synthesizing spatial drivers of change on coral reefs, we provide an avenue for further research to understand how drivers determine reef diversity and resilience, which can ultimately inform policies to protect coral reefs.
The increased frequency of publications concerning trophic ecology of coral reefs suggests a degree of interest in the role species and functional groups play in energy flow within these systems. Coral reef ecosystems are particularly complex, however, and assignment of trophic positions requires precise knowledge of mechanisms driving food webs and population dynamics. Competent analytical tools and empirical analysis are integral to defining ecosystem processes and avoiding misinterpretation of results. Here we examine the contribution of trophodynamics to informing ecological roles and understanding of coral reef ecology. Applied trophic studies of coral reefs were used to identify recent trends in methodology and analysis. Although research is increasing, clear definitions and scaling of studies is lacking. Trophodynamic studies will require more precise spatial and temporal data collection and analysis using multiple methods to fully explore the complex interactions within coral reef ecosystems.
Ocean acidification (OA) is considered an important threat to coral reef ecosystems, because it reduces the availability of carbonate ions that reef-building corals need to produce their skeletons. However, while theory predicts that coral calcification rates decline as carbonate ion concentrations decrease, this prediction is not consistently borne out in laboratory manipulation experiments or in studies of corals inhabiting naturally low-pH reefs today. The skeletal growth of corals consists of two distinct processes: extension (upward growth) and densification (lateral thickening). Here, we show that skeletal density is directly sensitive to changes in seawater carbonate ion concentration and thus, to OA, whereas extension is not. We present a numerical model of Porites skeletal growth that links skeletal density with the external seawater environment via its influence on the chemistry of coral calcifying fluid. We validate the model using existing coral skeletal datasets from six Porites species collected across five reef sites and use this framework to project the impact of 21st century OA on Porites skeletal density across the global tropics. Our model predicts that OA alone will drive up to 20.3 ± 5.4% decline in the skeletal density of reef-building Porites corals.