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  1. Understanding how tropical corals respond to temperatures is important to evaluating their capacity to persist in a warmer future. We studied the common Pacific coral Pocillopora over 44° of latitude, and used populations at three islands with different thermal regimes to compare their responses to temperature using thermal performance curves (TPCs) for respiration and gross photosynthesis. Corals were sampled in the local autumn from Moorea, Guam, and Okinawa where mean (± s.d.) annual seawater temperature is 28.0±0.9°C, 28.9±0.7°C, and 25.1±3.4°C, respectively. TPCs for respiration were similar among latitudes, the thermal optimum (Topt) was above the local maximum temperature at all three islands, and maximum respiration was lowest at Okinawa. TPCs for gross photosynthesis were wider, implying greater thermal eurytopy, with a higher Topt in Moorea versus Guam and Okinawa. Topt was above the maximum temperature in Moorea, but was similar to daily temperatures over 13% of the year in Okinawa, and 53% of the year in Guam. There was greater annual variation in daily temperatures in Okinawa than Guam or Moorea, which translated to large variation in the supply of metabolic energy and photosynthetically fixed carbon at higher latitudes. Despite these trends, the differences in TPCs for Pocillopora were not profoundly different across latitudes, reducing the likelihood that populations of these corals could better match their phenotypes to future more extreme temperatures through migration. Any such response would place a premium on high metabolic plasticity and tolerance of large seasonal variations in energy budgets.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 3, 2025
  2. Abstract

    Numerous tropical macroalgae provide associational refuge to other benthic organisms, presumably due to their physical structure and/or production of chemical metabolites. One feature determining their effectiveness as an associational refuge is likely to be the size of the organism benefitting from the refuge. Using a manipulative experiment in the back reef of Moorea, French Polynesia, we tested if the macroalgaTurbinaria ornataprovided an associational refuge from fish corallivores for small colonies of massivePoritesspp., and how this differed with colony size (20–100 mm diameter). Tissue loss through corallivory increased with colony size but was ~ 72% less forPoritescolonies associated withT. ornataversus colonies separated from this macroalga, while dense macroalgae beds on contemporary reefs negatively impact the recruitment, growth and survival of corals, small colonies ofPoritesappear to benefit, through reduced corallivory, by associating with the macroalgaTurbinaria. This association may come at a cost (e.g., reduced growth) and should be the focus of future research.

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  3. Abstract

    Many aspects of global ecosystem degradation are well known, but the ecological implications of variation in these effects over scales of kilometers and years have not been widely considered. On tropical coral reefs, kilometer-scale variation in environmental conditions promotes a spatial mosaic of coral communities in which spatial insurance effects could enhance community stability. To evaluate whether these effects are important on coral reefs, we explored variation over 2006–2019 in coral community structure and environmental conditions in Moorea, French Polynesia. We studied coral community structure at a single site with fringing, back reef, and fore reef habitats, and used this system to explore associations among community asynchrony, asynchrony of environmental conditions, and community stability. Coral community structure varied asynchronously among habitats, and variation among habitats in the daily range in seawater temperature suggested it could be a factor contributing to the variation in coral community structure. Wave forced seawater flow connected the habitats and facilitated larval exchange among them, but this effect differed in strength among years, and accentuated periodic connectivity among habitats at 1–7 year intervals. At this site, connected habitats harboring taxonomically similar coral assemblages and exhibiting asynchronous population dynamics can provide insurance against extirpation, and may promote community stability. If these effects apply at larger spatial scale, then among-habitat community asynchrony is likely to play an important role in determining reef-wide coral community resilience.

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  4. Abstract

    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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