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  1. Melzner, Frank (Ed.)
    With marine heat waves increasing in intensity and frequency due to climate change, it is important to understand how thermal disturbances will alter coral reef ecosystems since stony corals are highly susceptible to mortality from thermally-induced, mass bleaching events. In Moorea, French Polynesia, we evaluated the response and fate of coral following a major thermal stress event in 2019 that caused a substantial amount of branching coral (predominantly Pocillopora ) to bleach and die. We investigated whether Pocillopora colonies that occurred within territorial gardens protected by the farmerfish Stegastes nigricans were less susceptible to or survived bleaching better than Pocillopora on adjacent, undefended substrate. Bleaching prevalence (proportion of the sampled colonies affected) and severity (proportion of a colony’s tissue that bleached), which were quantified for >1,100 colonies shortly after they bleached, did not differ between colonies within or outside of defended gardens. By contrast, the fates of 399 focal colonies followed for one year revealed that a bleached coral within a garden was a third less likely to suffer complete colony death and about twice as likely to recover to its pre-bleaching cover of living tissue compared to Pocillopora outside of a farmerfish garden. Our findings indicate that while residing in a farmerfish garden may not reduce the bleaching susceptibility of a coral to thermal stress, it does help buffer a bleached coral against severe outcomes. This oasis effect of farmerfish gardens, where survival and recovery of thermally-damaged corals are enhanced, is another mechanism that helps explain why large Pocillopora colonies are disproportionately more abundant in farmerfish territories than elsewhere in the lagoons of Moorea, despite gardens being relatively uncommon. As such, some farmerfishes may have an increasingly important role in maintaining the resilience of branching corals as the frequency and intensity of marine heat waves continue to increase. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 8, 2024
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
  3. abstract Coastal ecosystems play a disproportionately large role in society, and climate change is altering their ecological structure and function, as well as their highly valued goods and services. In the present article, we review the results from decade-scale research on coastal ecosystems shaped by foundation species (e.g., coral reefs, kelp forests, coastal marshes, seagrass meadows, mangrove forests, barrier islands) to show how climate change is altering their ecological attributes and services. We demonstrate the value of site-based, long-term studies for quantifying the resilience of coastal systems to climate forcing, identifying thresholds that cause shifts in ecological state, and investigating the capacity of coastal ecosystems to adapt to climate change and the biological mechanisms that underlie it. We draw extensively from research conducted at coastal ecosystems studied by the US Long Term Ecological Research Network, where long-term, spatially extensive observational data are coupled with shorter-term mechanistic studies to understand the ecological consequences of climate change. 
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  4. Abstract

    Surveying coastal systems to estimate distribution and abundance of fish and benthic organisms is labor‐intensive, often resulting in spatially limited data that are difficult to scale up to an entire reef or island. We developed a method that leverages the automation of a machine learning platform, CoralNet, to efficiently and cost‐effectively allow a single observer to simultaneously generate georeferenced data on abundances of fish and benthic taxa over large areas in shallow coastal environments. Briefly, a researcher conducts a fish survey while snorkeling on the surface and towing a float equipped with a handheld GPS and a downward‐facing GoPro, passively taking ~ 10 photographs per meter of benthos. Photographs and surveys are later georeferenced and photographs are automatically annotated by CoralNet. We found that this method provides similar biomass and density values for common fishes as traditional scuba‐based fish counts on fixed transects, with the advantage of covering a larger area. Our CoralNet validation determined that while photographs automatically annotated by CoralNet are less accurate than photographs annotated by humans at the level of a single image, the automated approach provides comparable or better estimations of the percent cover of the benthic substrates at the level of a minute of survey (~ 50 m2of reef) due to the volume of photographs that can be automatically annotated, providing greater spatial coverage of the site. This method can be used in a variety of shallow systems and is particularly advantageous when spatially explicit data or surveys of large spatial extents are necessary.

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  5. null (Ed.)
    Abstract A suite of processes drive variation in coral populations in space and time, yet our understanding of how variation in coral density affects coral performance is limited. Theory predicts that reductions in density can send coral populations into a predator pit, where concentrated corallivory maintains corals at low densities. In reality, how variation in coral density alters corallivory rates is poorly resolved. Here, we experimentally quantified the effects of corallivory and coral density on growth and survival of small colonies of the staghorn coral Acropora pulchra . Our findings suggest that coral density and corallivory have strong but independent effects on coral performance. In the presence of corallivores, corals suffered high but density-independent mortality. When corallivores were excluded, however, vertical extension rates of colonies increased with increasing densities. While we found no evidence for a predator pit, our results suggest that spatio-temporal variation in corallivore and coral densities can fundamentally alter population dynamics via strong effects on juvenile corals. 
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  6. Abstract

    Standing dead structures of habitat‐forming organisms (e.g., dead trees, coral skeletons, oyster shells) killed by a disturbance are material legacies that can affect ecosystem recovery processes. Many ecosystems are subject to different types of disturbance that either remove biogenic structures or leave them intact. Here we used a mathematical model to quantify how the resilience of coral reef ecosystems may be differentially affected following structure‐removing and structure‐retaining disturbance events, focusing in particular on the potential for regime shifts from coral to macroalgae. We found that dead coral skeletons could substantially diminish coral resilience if they provided macroalgae refuge from herbivory, a key feedback associated with the recovery of coral populations. Our model shows that the material legacy of dead skeletons broadens the range of herbivore biomass over which coral and macroalgae states are bistable. Hence, material legacies can alter resilience by modifying the underlying relationship between a system driver (herbivory) and a state variable (coral cover).

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  7. null (Ed.)
    Underwater photogrammetry is increasingly being used by marine ecologists because of its ability to produce accurate, spatially detailed, non-destructive measurements of benthic communities, coupled with affordability and ease of use. However, independent quality control, rigorous imaging system set-up, optimal geometry design and a strict modeling of the imaging process are essential to achieving a high degree of measurable accuracy and resolution. If a proper photogrammetric approach that enables the formal description of the propagation of measurement error and modeling uncertainties is not undertaken, statements regarding the statistical significance of the results are limited. In this paper, we tackle these critical topics, based on the experience gained in the Moorea Island Digital Ecosystem Avatar (IDEA) project, where we have developed a rigorous underwater photogrammetric pipeline for coral reef monitoring and change detection. Here, we discuss the need for a permanent, underwater geodetic network, which serves to define a temporally stable reference datum and a check for the time series of photogrammetrically derived three-dimensional (3D) models of the reef structure. We present a methodology to evaluate the suitability of several underwater camera systems for photogrammetric and multi-temporal monitoring purposes and stress the importance of camera network geometry to minimize the deformations of photogrammetrically derived 3D reef models. Finally, we incorporate the measurement and modeling uncertainties of the full photogrammetric process into a simple and flexible framework for detecting statistically significant changes among a time series of models. 
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