Disturbance-induced changes in population size structure promote coral biodiversity

Alvarez-Noriega, Mariana, Madin, Joshua S., Baird, Andrew H., Dornelas, Maria, and Connolly, Sean R. (2023) Disturbance-induced changes in population size structure promote coral biodiversity. American Naturalist, 202 (5). pp. 604-615.

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Reef-building coral assemblages are typically species rich, yet the processes maintaining high biodiversity remain poorly understood. Disturbance has long been thought to promote coral species coexistence by reducing the strength of competition (i.e., the intermediate disturbance hypothesis [IDH]). However, such disturbance-induced effects are insufficient to inhibit competitive exclusion. Nevertheless, there are other mechanisms by which disturbance and, more generally, environmental variation can favor coexistence. Here, we develop a size-structured, stochastic coral competition model calibrated with field data from two common colony morphologies to investigate the effects of hydrodynamic disturbance on community dynamics. We show that fluctuations in wave action can promote coral species coexistence but that this occurs via interspecific differences in size-dependent mortality rather than solely via stochastic fluctuations in competition (i.e., free space availability). While this mechanism differs from that originally envisioned in the IDH, it is nonetheless a mechanism by which intermediate levels of disturbance do promote coexistence. Given the sensitivity of coexistence to disturbance frequency and intensity, anthropogenic changes in disturbance regimes are likely to affect coral assemblages in ways that are not predictable from single-population models.

Item ID: 82123
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1537-5323
Keywords: Coexistence, Environmental variability, Wave disturbance
Copyright Information: © 2023 The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC), ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Projects and Grants: ARC FT110100609, ARC FT0990652, ARC DP0880544, ARC CE0561432, ARC CE140100020
Date Deposited: 14 Mar 2024 03:29
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280102 Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences @ 100%
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