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Title: The demography of hurricane effects on two coral populations differing in dynamics

On most tropical coral reefs, decades of disturbances have ratcheted down coral cover to create low abundance communities. In such a state, the reefs of St. John,USVirgin Islands, were hit by two Category 5 hurricanes in September 2017, yet the effects on two sites dominated byOrbicella annulariswere minor in terms of coral cover. To explore the implications of this outcome, the fates ofO. annulariscolonies were determined from photoquadrats and used to prepare size‐based matrix models for the year preceding the storms and the four months bracketing the storms. The populations displayed contrasting dynamics from 1988 to July 2017, with coral cover declining from 43% to 5% at Yawzi Point but remaining at ~30% at Tektite. Over this period, colony sizes declined, with ≥82% having planar areas ≤50 cm2(i.e., the smallest size class) by July 2017, and while densities declined from 47 to 8 colonies/m2at Yawzi Point, they increased from 36 to 51 colonies/m2at Tektite. Hurricanes Irma and Maria depressed coral cover by 1–4%, transitioned colonies into the smallest size class (>87% by November), killed 27% and 5% of the colonies in the smallest size class at Yawzi Point and Tektite, respectively, and depressed the 5‐yr intrinsic rate of population growth (λ) to 0.53–0.87. Twenty‐year projections suggested these demographic effects will not have ecologically meaningful impacts on population size, at least compared to projections initiated assuming Hurricanes Irma and Maria had not occurred. With low cover ofO. annularisdistributed among many small colonies, future disturbances may play more important roles in winnowing the few remaining host genotypes rather than further depressing coral cover.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
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Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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