Community structure of pleistocene coral reefs of Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles

Pandolfi, John M., and Jackson, Jeremy B.C. (2001) Community structure of pleistocene coral reefs of Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles. Ecological Monographs, 71 (1). pp. 49-67.

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The Quaternary fossil record of living coral reefs is fundamental for understanding modern ecological patterns. Living reefs generally accumulate in place, so fossil reefs record a history of their former biological inhabitants and physical environments. Reef corals record their ecological history especially well because they form large, resistant skeletons, which can be identified to species. Thus, presence–absence and relative abundance data can be obtained with a high degree of confidence. Moreover, potential effects of humans on reef ecology were absent or insignificant on most reefs until the last few hundred years, so that it is possible to analyze “natural” distribution patterns before intense human disturbance began.

We characterized Pleistocene reef coral assemblages from Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles, Caribbean Sea, focusing on predictability in species abundance patterns from different reef environments over broad spatial scales. Our data set is composed of >2 km of surveyed Quaternary reef. Taxonomic composition showed consistent differences between environments and along secondary environmental gradients within environments. Within environments, taxonomic composition of communities was markedly similar, indicating nonrandom species associations and communities composed of species occurring in characteristic abundances. This community similarity was maintained with little change over a 40-km distance. The nonrandom patterns in species abundances were similar to those found in the Caribbean before the effects of extensive anthropogenic degradation of reefs in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The high degree of order observed in species abundance patterns of fossil reef coral communities on a scale of tens of kilometers contrasts markedly with patterns observed in previous small-scale studies of modern reefs. Dominance of Acropora palmata in the reef crest zone and patterns of overlap and nonoverlap of species in the Montastraea “annularis” sibling species complex highlight the tendency for distribution and abundance patterns of Pleistocene corals to reflect environmental preferences at multiple spatial scales. Wave energy is probably the most important physical environmental variable structuring these coral communities. The strong similarity between ancient and pre-1980s Caribbean reefs and the nonrandom distribution of coral species in space and time indicate that recent variability noted at much smaller time scales may be due to either unprecedented anthropogenic influences on reefs or fundamentally different patterns at varying spatio-temporal scales.

Item ID: 1462
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1557-7015
Keywords: Caribbean, community ecology, community structure, coral, coral reefs, paleoecology, Pleistocene, Quaternary
Date Deposited: 01 Jun 2007
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050202 Conservation and Biodiversity @ 0%
04 EARTH SCIENCES > 0403 Geology > 040308 Palaeontology (incl Palynology) @ 0%
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