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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 295:157-169 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps295157

Precursors for resilience in coral communities in a warming climate: a belief network approach

Scott Wooldridge1,2,*, Terry Done1,2, Ray Berkelmans1,2, Roger Jones3, Paul Marshall4

1Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB 3, Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia
2CRC Reef Research Centre, PO Box 772, Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia
3CSIRO Atmospheric Research, PMB 1, Aspendale, Victoria 3195, Australia
4Great Barrier Marine Park Authority, PO Box 1379, Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia

ABSTRACT: This paper explores how successful management interventions might benefit coral reefs during the period of climate warming that is expected in coming decades. To aid this task we have developed a prototype decision-support tool, called ‘ReefState’, which integrates the outcomes of management interventions within a ‘belief network’ of connected variables that describe future warming, coral damage and coral recovery. In a case study applied to the inshore waters of the central Great Barrier Reef, Australia, our worst case scenarios, like several others, suggest that reefs will become devoid of significant coral cover and associated biodiversity by 2050. Even under more optimistic (low) rates of future warming, the persistence of hard coral dominated reefscapes beyond 2050 will be heavily reliant on 2 things, the ability of corals to increase their upper thermal bleaching limits by ~0.1°C per decade, and management that produces local conditions that constrain excessive algal biomass proliferation during inter-disturbance intervals. Despite being perturbed by a global warming process, management of local ecological factors will thus be of critical importance in shaping the future trajectories of coral reef ecosystems.

KEY WORDS: Belief network · Decision support · Uncertainty · Coral bleaching · Adaptation · Resilience · Community composition

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