New USGS manuscript documents unprecedented shift in coral species composition of Florida’s reefs

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Lauren Toth (Research Oceanographer, SPCMSC), Ilsa Kuffner (Research Marine Biologist, SPCMSC), and Anastasios Stathakopoulos (Oceanographer) led a study published this week showing that the coral species that dominated Florida’s coral reef for the last 8000 years have been replaced by novel species assemblages in recent decades.

A USGS study accepted for publication in the journal Ecology reconstructed the coral species composition of Florida’s reefs during the Holocene (last ~12 thousand years) using coral-reef cores from the USGS Core Archive and compared those records with modern reef surveys conducted through Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project. The study shows that for 8000 years, just a handful of coral species, primarily the elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata and the star corals, Orbicella spp., were responsible for the majority of Holocene reef-building in the region. Populations of these species have declined dramatically in recent decades and they are now listed as Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. As a result, the relative abundance of smaller, “weedy” corals has increased on Florida’s reefs, resulting in a shift in reef assemblages that is unprecedented in the geologic record. The study suggests that restoring populations of formerly-dominant, reef-building species may provide the best hope of optimizing the impact of coral-reef management in the future.

The full citation is:

Toth, L.T., Stathakopoulos, Anastasios, Ruzicka, R.R., Colella, M.A., and Kuffner, I.B., 2019, The unprecedented loss of Florida’s reef-building corals and the emergence of a novel coral-reef ecosystem: Ecology, https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.2781.

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Date published: October 5, 2018
Status: Active

Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CREST)

The specific objectives of this project are to identify and describe the processes that are important in determining rates of coral-reef construction. How quickly the skeletons of calcifying organisms accumulate to form massive barrier-reef structure is determined by processes of both construction (how fast organisms grow and reproduce) and destruction (how fast reefs break down by mechanical...