The spatial footprint and patchiness of large-scale disturbances on coral reefs

Dietzel, Andreas, Connolly, Sean R., Hughes, Terry P., and Bode, Michael (2021) The spatial footprint and patchiness of large-scale disturbances on coral reefs. Global Change Biology, 27 (19). pp. 4825-4838.

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Ecosystems have always been shaped by disturbances, but many of these events are becoming larger, more severe and more frequent. The recovery capacity of depleted populations depends on the frequency of disturbances, the spatial distribution of mortality and the scale of dispersal. Here, we show that four mass coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef (in 1998, 2002, 2016 and 2017) each had markedly larger disturbance footprints and were less patchy than a severe category 5 tropical cyclone (Cyclone Yasi, 2011). Severely bleached reefs in 2016 and 2017 were isolated from the nearest lightly affected reefs by up to 146 and 200 km, respectively. In contrast, reefs damaged by Cyclone Yasi were on average 20 km away from relatively undisturbed reefs, well within the estimated range of larval dispersal for most corals. Based on these results, we present a model of coral reef disturbance and recovery to examine (1) how the spatial clustering of disturbances modifies large-scale recovery rates; and (2) how recovery rates are shaped by species' dispersal abilities. Our findings illustrate that the spatial footprint of the recent mass bleaching events poses an unprecedented threat to the resilience of coral species in human history, a threat that is even larger than the amount of mortality suggests.

Item ID: 70079
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1365-2486
Keywords: cyclones, dispersal, mass coral bleaching, reef disturbance, reef recovery, spatial autocorrelation
Copyright Information: © 2021 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Funders: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Projects and Grants: ARC CE140100020
Date Deposited: 17 Mar 2022 03:04
Downloads: Total: 1
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