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Title: Portfolio effects and functional redundancy contribute to the maintenance of octocoral forests on Caribbean reefs

Declines in abundance of scleractinian corals on shallow Caribbean reefs have left many reefs dominated by forests of arborescent octocorals. The ecological mechanisms favoring their persistence require exploration. We quantified octocoral communities from 2014 to 2019 at two sites in St. John, US Virgin Islands, and evaluated their dynamics to assess whether portfolio effects might contribute to their resilience. Octocorals were identified to species, or species complexes, and their abundances and heights were measured, with height2serving as a biomass proxy. Annual variation in abundance was asynchronous among species, except when they responded in similar ways to hurricanes in September 2017. Multivariate changes in octocoral communities, viewed in 2-dimensional ordinations, were similar between sites, but analyses based on density differed from those based on the biomass proxy. On the density scale, variation in the community composed of all octocoral species was indistinguishable from that quantified with subsets of 6–10 of the octocoral species at one of the two sites, identifying structural redundancy in the response of the community. Conservation of the relative colony size-frequency structure, combined with temporal changes in the species represented by the tallest colonies, suggests that portfolio effects and functional redundancy stabilize the vertical structure and canopy in these tropical octocoral forests.

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Nature Publishing Group
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Journal Name:
Scientific Reports
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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