Multiple stressors on coral reefs: a long-term perspective

Hughes, T.P., and Connell, J.H. (1999) Multiple stressors on coral reefs: a long-term perspective. Limnology and Oceanography, 44 (3). pp. 932-940.

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Coral reefs are subject to a high frequency of recurrent biological and physical disturbances. The temporal and spatial scales of these are often large and difficult to study, so that most of our knowledge of disturbances on coral reefs comes from investigations conducted at one or a few sites, over shea periods of time. We argue that studying single events in isolation can be misleading and that a longer term approach is necessary for understanding the responses of coral reef assemblages to multiple stressors. We present first a brief review of the impacts of physical disturbance (e.g., cyclones, hurricanes) on the community dynamics of coral reefs, with special attention to the effects of recurrent events. We then examine two unusually detailed, long-term data sets from Heron Island, Australia, and Jamaica which demonstrate some of the complexities of multiple stressors (broadly defined as natural or man-made disturbances). Both case studies illustrate that the effect of a particular disturbance often depends critically on the impact of previous perturbations. Consequently, even the same type of recurrent stressor can have different effects at different times, depending on history. Accordingly, when the added dimension of time is considered, the distinction between single and multiple stressors becomes blurred. Even a single event such as a hurricane can be viewed mechanistically as a multiple stressor, with short- and long-term impacts. We emphasize that multiple stressors often have significant effects on recruitment and regenerative processes of assemblages. These impacts are much less obvious than catastrophic or chronic mortality, but they play a crucial role in community dynamics over longer time scales. Importantly, chronic anthropogenic impacts can impede the ability of coral assemblages to recover from natural disasters, even where there is little detectable effect on rates of adult mortality. Once a reef has been degraded, it is usually impossible to ascertain retrospectively the precise mechanisms that were involved or the relative importance of different events. A single survey will provide a snapshot of the status of coral reefs, but a longer term approach is required to understand the processes underlying changes in assemblages.

Item ID: 26618
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1939-5590
Keywords: great-barrier-reef; community structure; pocillopora-damicornis; disturbance; mortality; diversity; recolonization; recruitment; recovery; dynamics
Date Deposited: 10 Jul 2013 04:55
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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