MEPS 528:173-186 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11268

Influence of water-temperature variability on stony coral diversity in Florida Keys patch reefs

M. Vega-Rodriguez1,*, F. E. Müller-Karger1, P. Hallock1, G. A. Quiles-Perez1, C. M. Eakin2, M. Colella3, D. L. Jones1, J. Li2, I. Soto1, L. Guild4, S. Lynds5, R. Ruzicka3

1College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, 140 Seventh Avenue South, St. Petersburg, Florida 33701, USA
2Coral Reef Watch, Center for Satellite Applications and Research, NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, 5830 University Research Ct., E/RA32, College Park, Maryland 20740, USA
3Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 100 Eighth Avenue Southeast, St. Petersburg, Florida 33701, USA
4Earth Science Division, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California 94035, USA
5Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Annual surveys conducted by the Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project (CREMP) reported that average benthic cover of stony corals in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, USA declined from ~13% in 1996 to 8% in 2009. Keys-wide, mean species richness (SR) declined by ~2.3 species per station. Stress due to temperature extremes is suspected to be a major driver of this trend. We tested the potential for sea surface temperature (SST) variability and acute warm-temperature events (assessed with Degree Heating Weeks) to affect stony coral diversity in the Florida Keys. Benthic cover of 43 stony coral species was examined with respect to SST variability and habitat type (patch, offshore shallow, and offshore deep reefs). For each CREMP site, SST annual variance was classified as low (<7.0°C2), intermediate (7.0 to 10.9°C2), or high (≥11.0°C2). Nonparametric MANOVA analyses showed that in the Upper, Middle, and Lower Keys regions, massive-type stony coral species (e.g. Siderastrea siderea, Pseudodiploria strigosa, Orbicella annularis complex, Montastraea cavernosa, and Colpophyllia natans) were prevalent in the patch reef habitats exposed to intermediate to high SST variability. Intermediate SST variability was also correlated with higher Shannon diversity means in patch reefs in the Upper Keys and higher SR means in the Middle Keys, indicating either that the stony coral species in these habitats are adapted to an intermediate temperature range or that individual colonies have acclimatized to that range. No significant relationships were found between stony coral diversity and SST variability in the Dry Tortugas region.


KEY WORDS: Coral reef · Florida Keys · Sea surface temperature · Degree Heating Weeks · Species richness · Shannon diversity


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Cite this article as: Vega-Rodriguez M, Müller-Karger FE, Hallock P, Quiles-Perez GA and others (2015) Influence of water-temperature variability on stony coral diversity in Florida Keys patch reefs. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 528:173-186. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11268

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