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  1. Aronson, R (Ed.)

    Biome degradation characterizes the Anthropocene Epoch, and modern ecology is deeply involved with describing the changes underway. Most research has focused on the role of acute disturbances in causing conspicuous changes in ecosystem structure, which leads to an underappreciation of the chronic effects causing large changes through the cumulative effects of small perturbations over decades. Coral reefs epitomize this trend, because the changes in community structure are profound, yet the data to quantify these effects are usually insufficient to evaluate the relative roles of different disturbance types. Here, four decades of surveys from two coral reefs (9 and 14 m depth) off St. John, US Virgin Islands, are used to quantify the associations of acute and chronic events with the changes in benthic community structure. These reefs profoundly changed over 36 years, with coral death altering species assemblages to depress abundances of the ecologically important coralOrbicellaspp. and elevating the coverage of macroalgae and crustose coralline algae/turf/bare space (CTB). Linear mixed models revealed the prominent role of chronic variation in temperature in accounting for changes in coverage of corals, macroalgae, and CTB, with rising temperature associated with increases in coral cover on the deep reef, and declines on the shallow reef. Hurricanes were also associated with declines in coral cover on the shallow reef, and increases on the deep reef. Multivariate analyses revealed strong associations between community structure and temperature, but weaker associations with hurricanes, bleaching, and diseases. These results highlight the overwhelming importance of chronically increasing temperature in altering the benthic community structure of Caribbean reefs.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 20, 2025

    Body size profoundly affects organism fitness and ecosystem dynamics through the scaling of physiological traits. This study tested for variation in metabolic scaling and its potential drivers among corals differing in life history strategies and taxonomic identity. Data were compiled from published sources and augmented with empirical measurements of corals in Moorea, French Polynesia. The data compilation revealed metabolic isometry in broadcasted larvae, but size-independent metabolism in brooded larvae; empirical measurements of Pocillopora acuta larvae also supported size-independent metabolism in brooded coral larvae. In contrast, for juvenile colonies (i.e. 1–4 cm diameter), metabolic scaling was isometric for Pocillopora spp., and negatively allometric for Porites spp. The scaling of biomass with surface area was isometric for Pocillopora spp., but positively allometric for Porites spp., suggesting the surface area to biomass ratio mediates metabolic scaling in these corals. The scaling of tissue biomass and metabolism were not affected by light treatment (i.e. either natural photoperiods or constant darkness) in either juvenile taxa. However, biomass was reduced by 9–15% in the juvenile corals from the light treatments and this coincided with higher metabolic scaling exponents, thus supporting the causal role of biomass in driving variation in scaling. This study shows that metabolic scaling is plastic in early life stages of corals, with intrinsic differences between life history strategy (i.e. brooded and broadcasted larvae) and taxa (i.e. Pocillopora spp. and Porites spp.), and acquired differences attributed to changes in area-normalized biomass.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 15, 2025
  3. Understanding population dynamics is a long-standing objective of ecology, but the need for progress in this area has become urgent. For coral reefs, achieving this objective is impeded by a lack of information on settlement versus post-settlement events in determining recruitment and population size. Declines in coral abundance are often inferred to be associated with reduced densities of recruits, which could arise from mechanisms occurring at larval settlement, or throughout post-settlement stages. This study uses annual measurements from 2008 to 2021 of coral cover, the density of coral settlers (S), the density of small corals (SC), and environmental conditions, to evaluate the roles of settlement versus post-settlement events in determining rates of coral recruitment and changes in coral cover at Moorea, French Polynesia. Coral cover, S, SC, and the SC:S ratio (a proxy for post-settlement success), and environmental conditions, were used in generalized additive models (GAMs) to show that: (a) coral cover was more strongly related to SC and SC:S than S, and (b) SC:S was highest when preceded by cool seawater, low concentrations of Chlorophyll a, and low flow speeds, and S showed evidence of declining with elevated temperature. Together, these results suggest that changes in coral cover in Moorea are more strongly influenced by post-settlement events than settlement. The key to understanding coral community resilience may lie in elucidating the factors attenuating the bottleneck between settlers and small corals. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2025
  4. Banaszak, A (Ed.)

    Monitoring coral cover can describe the ecology of reef degradation, but rarely can it reveal the proximal mechanisms of change, or achieve its full potential in informing conservation actions. Describing temporal variation in Symbiodiniaceae within corals can help address these limitations, but this is rarely a research priority. Here, we augmented an ecological time series of the coral reefs of St. John, US Virgin Islands, by describing the genetic complement of symbiotic algae in common corals. Seventy-five corals from nine species were marked and sampled in 2017. Of these colonies, 41% were sampled in 2018, and 72% in 2019; 28% could not be found and were assumed to have died. Symbiodiniaceae ITS2 sequencing identified 525 distinct sequences (comprising 42 ITS2 type profiles), and symbiont diversity differed among host species and individuals, but was in most cases preserved within hosts over 3 yrs that were marked by physical disturbances from major hurricanes (2017) and the regional onset of stony coral tissue loss disease (2019). While changes in symbiont communities were slight and stochastic over time within colonies, variation in the dominant symbionts among colonies was observed for all host species. Together, these results indicate that declining host abundances could lead to the loss of rare algal lineages that are found in a low proportion of few coral colonies left on many reefs, especially if coral declines are symbiont-specific. These findings highlight the importance of identifying Symbiodiniaceae as part of a time series of coral communities to support holistic conservation planning. Repeated sampling of tagged corals is unlikely to be viable for this purpose, because many Caribbean corals are dying before they can be sampled multiple times. Instead, random sampling of large numbers of corals may be more effective in capturing the diversity and temporal dynamics of Symbiodiniaceae metacommunities in reef corals.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2025
  5. Abstract

    As the major form of coral reef regime shift, stony coral to macroalgal transitions have received considerable attention. In the Caribbean, however, regime shifts in which scleractinian corals are replaced by octocoral assemblages hold potential for maintaining reef associated communities. Accordingly, forecasting the resilience of octocoral assemblages to future disturbance regimes is necessary to understand these assemblages' capacity to maintain reef biodiversity. We parameterised integral projection models quantifying the survival, growth, and recruitment of the octocorals,Antillogorgia americana,Gorgonia ventalina, andEunicea flexuosa,in St John, US Virgin Islands, before, during, and after severe hurricane disturbance. Using these models, we forecast the density of populations of each species under varying future hurricane regimes. We demonstrate that although hurricanes reduce population growth,A. americana,G. ventalina, andE. flexuosaeach display a capacity for quick recovery following storm disturbance. Despite this recovery potential, we illustrate how the population dynamics of each species correspond with a longer-term decline in their population densities. Despite their resilience to periodic physical disturbance events, ongoing global change jeopardises the future viability of octocoral assemblages.

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  6. unknown, x (Ed.)
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2024
  7. Abstract

    The implications of ocean acidification are acute for calcifying organisms, notably tropical reef corals, for which accretion generally is depressed and dissolution enhanced at reduced seawater pH. We describe year‐long experiments in which back reef and fore reef (17‐m depth) communities from Moorea, French Polynesia, were incubated outdoors under pCO2regimes reflecting endpoints of representative concentration pathways (RCPs) expected by the end the century. Incubations were completed in three to four flumes (5.0 × 0.3 m, 500 L) in which seawater was refreshed and circulated at 0.1 m s−1, and the response of the communities was evaluated monthly by measurements of net community calcification (NCC) and net community productivity (NCP). For both communities, NCC (but not NCP) was affected by treatments and time, with NCC declining with increasing pCO2, and for the fore reef, becoming negative (i.e., dissolution was occurring) at the highest pCO2(1067–1433μatm, RCP8.5). There was scant evidence of community adjustment to reduce the negative effects of ocean acidification, and inhibition of NCC intensified in the back reef as the abundance of massivePoritesspp. declined. These results highlight the risks of dissolution under ocean acidification for coral reefs and suggest these effects will be most acute in fore reef habitats. Without signs of amelioration of the negative effects of ocean acidification during year‐long experiments, it is reasonable to expect that the future of coral reefs in acidic seas can be predicted from their current known susceptibility to ocean acidification.

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    Coral recruitment describes the addition of new individuals to populations, and it is one of the most fundamental demographic processes contributing to population size. As many coral reefs around the world have experienced large declines in coral cover and abundance, there has been great interest in understanding the factors causing coral recruitment to vary and the conditions under which it can support community resilience. While progress in these areas is being facilitated by technological and scientific advances, one of the best tools to quantify recruitment remains the humble settlement tile, variants of which have been in use for over a century. Here I review the biology and ecology of coral recruits and the recruitment process, largely as resolved through the use of settlement tiles, by: (i) defining how the terms ‘recruit’ and ‘recruitment’ have been used, and explaining why loose terminology has impeded scientific advancement; (ii) describing how coral recruitment is measured and why settlement tiles have value for this purpose; (iii) summarizing previous efforts to review quantitative analyses of coral recruitment; (iv) describing advances from hypothesis‐driven studies in determining how refuges, seawater flow, and grazers can modulate coral recruitment; (v) reviewing the biology of small corals (i.e. recruits) to understand better how they respond to environmental conditions; and (vi) updating a quantitative compilation of coral recruitment studies extending from 1974 to present, thus revealing long‐term global declines in density of recruits, juxtaposed with apparent resilience to coral bleaching. Finally, I review future directions in the study of coral recruitment, and highlight the need to expand studies to deliver taxonomic resolution, and explain why time series of settlement tile deployments are likely to remain pivotal in quantifying coral recruitment.

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  9. Knowlton, N (Ed.)
    In 1983 to 1984, a mass mortality event caused a Caribbean-wide, >95% population reduction of the echinoid grazer, Diadema antillarum . This led to blooms of algae contributing to the devastation of scleractinian coral populations. Since then, D. antillarum exhibited only limited and patchy population recovery in shallow water, and in 2022 was struck by a second mass mortality reported over many reef localities in the Caribbean. Half-a-century time-series analyses of populations of this sea urchin from St. John, US Virgin Islands, reveal that the 2022 event has reduced population densities by 98.00% compared to 2021, and by 99.96% compared to 1983. In 2021, coral cover throughout the Caribbean was approaching the lowest values recorded in modern times. However, prior to 2022, locations with small aggregations of D. antillarum produced grazing halos in which weedy corals were able to successfully recruit and become the dominant coral taxa. The 2022 mortality has eliminated these algal-free halos on St. John and perhaps many other regions, thereby increasing the risk that these reefs will further transition into coral-free communities. 
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