A major challenge for coral reef conservation and management is understanding how a wide range of interacting human and natural drivers cumulatively impact and shape these ecosystems. Despite the importance of understanding these interactions, a methodological framework to synthesize spatially explicit data of such drivers is lacking. To fill this gap, we established a transferable data synthesis methodology to integrate spatial data on environmental and anthropogenic drivers of coral reefs, and applied this methodology to a case study location–the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI). Environmental drivers were derived from time series (2002–2013) of climatological ranges and anomalies of remotely sensed sea surface temperature, chlorophyll-a, irradiance, and wave power. Anthropogenic drivers were characterized using empirically derived and modeled datasets of spatial fisheries catch, sedimentation, nutrient input, new development, habitat modification, and invasive species. Within our case study system, resulting driver maps showed high spatial heterogeneity across the MHI, with anthropogenic drivers generally greatest and most widespread on O‘ahu, where 70% of the state’s population resides, while sedimentation and nutrients were dominant in less populated islands. Together, the spatial integration of environmental and anthropogenic driver data described here provides a first-ever synthetic approach to visualize how the drivers of coral reef state vary in space and demonstrates a methodological framework for implementation of this approach in other regions of the world. By quantifying and synthesizing spatial drivers of change on coral reefs, we provide an avenue for further research to understand how drivers determine reef diversity and resilience, which can ultimately inform policies to protect coral reefs.
Coral reefs worldwide are shifting from high-diversity, coral-dominated communities to low-diversity systems dominated by seaweeds. This shift can impact essential recovery processes such as larval recruitment and ecosystem resilience. Recent evidence suggests that chemical cues from certain corals attract, and from certain seaweeds suppress, recruitment of juvenile fishes, with loss of coral cover and increases in seaweed cover creating negative feedbacks that prevent reef recovery and sustain seaweed dominance. Unfortunately, the level of seaweed increase and coral decline that creates this chemically cued tipping point remains unknown, depriving managers of data-based targets to prevent damaging feedbacks. We conducted flume and field assays that suggest juvenile fishes sense and respond to cues produced by low levels of seaweed cover. However, the herbivore species we tested was more tolerant of degraded reef cues than non-herbivores, possibly providing some degree of resilience if these fishes recruit, consume macroalgae, and diminish negative cues.
Ocean acidification is projected to lower the Ωar of reef waters by 0.3-0.4 units by the end of century making it more difficult for calcifying organisms to secrete calcium carbonate while at the same time making the environment more favorable for abiotic and biotic dissolution of the reef framework. There is great interest in being able to project the point in time when coral reefs will cross the tipping point between being net depositional to net erosional in terms of their carbonate budgets. Periodic in situ assessments of the balance between carbonate production and dissolution that spans seasonal time scales may prove useful in monitoring and formulating projections of the impact of ocean acidification on reef carbonate production. This study represents the first broad scale geochemical survey of the rates of net community production (NCP) and net community calcification (NCC) across the Florida Reef Tract (FRT). Surveys were performed at approximately quarterly intervals in 2009-10 across seven onshore-offshore transects spanning the upper, middle and lower Florida Keys. Averaged across the FRT, the rates of NCP and NCC were positive during the spring/summer at 62 ± 7 and 17 ± 2 mmol m-2 d-1, respectively, and negative during the fall/winter at -33 ± 6 and -7 ± 2 mmol m-2 d-1. The most significant finding of the study was that the northern-most reef is already net erosional (-1.1 ± 0.4 kg CaCO3 m-2 y-1) and mid-reefs to the south were net depositional on an annual basis (0.4 ± 0.1 kg CaCO3 m-2 y-1) but erosional during the fall and winter. Only the two southern-most reefs were net depositional year-round. These results indicate that parts of the FRT have already crossed the tipping point for carbonate production and other parts are getting close.
Many countries are legally obliged to embrace ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. Reductions in bycatch and physical habitat damage are now commonplace, but mitigating more sophisticated impacts associated with the ecological functions of target fisheries species are in their infancy. Here we model the impacts of a parrotfish fishery on the future state and resilience of Caribbean coral reefs, enabling us to view the tradeoff between harvest and ecosystem health. We find that the implementation of a simple and enforceable size restriction of >30 cm provides a win:win outcome in the short term, delivering both ecological and fisheries benefits and leading to increased yield and greater coral recovery rate for a given harvest rate. However, maintaining resilient coral reefs even until 2030 requires the addition of harvest limitations (<10% of virgin fishable biomass) to cope with a changing climate and induced coral disturbances, even in reefs that are relatively healthy today. Managing parrotfish is not a panacea for protecting coral reefs but can play a role in sustaining the health of reefs and high-quality habitat for reef fisheries.
Cold-water corals, such as Lophelia pertusa, are key habitat-forming organisms found throughout the world's oceans to 3000 m deep. The complex three-dimensional framework made by these vulnerable marine ecosystems support high biodiversity and commercially important species. Given their importance, a key question is how both the living and the dead framework will fare under projected climate change. Here, we demonstrate that over 12 months L. pertusa can physiologically acclimate to increased CO2, showing sustained net calcification. However, their new skeletal structure changes and exhibits decreased crystallographic and molecular-scale bonding organization. Although physiological acclimatization was evident, we also demonstrate that there is a negative correlation between increasing CO2 levels and breaking strength of exposed framework (approx. 20–30% weaker after 12 months), meaning the exposed bases of reefs will be less effective ‘load-bearers’, and will become more susceptible to bioerosion and mechanical damage by 2100.