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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 504:159-170 (2014)  -  DOI:

Land use, water quality, and the history of coral assemblages at Bocas del Toro, Panamá

Richard B. Aronson1,2,*, Nancy L. Hilbun2,3, Thomas S. Bianchi4, Timothy R. Filley5, Brent A. McKee6

1Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Institute of Technology, 150 West University Boulevard, Melbourne, Florida 32901, USA
2Dauphin Island Sea Lab, 101 Bienville Boulevard, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA
3Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, Alabama 36688, USA
4Department of Geological Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA
5Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences and the Purdue Climate Change Research Center, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA
6Department of Marine Sciences, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: As human activities have intensified along tropical coastlines, the anthropic influence on adjacent coral reefs has become increasingly deleterious. Changes in land use generally degrade water quality, but controversy persists over the degree to which reduced water quality affects the ecology of reef communities. We cored reef frameworks at 4 sites in Bahía Almirante, a semi-enclosed, coastal lagoon in northwestern Panamá, to explore the historical relationship between turnover in coral-species dominance and terrigenous input. The coral constituents of the cores were analyzed in tandem with lignin-phenol concentrations. Chronologies and sedimentation rates were determined from 210Pb profiles in the cores. Increased terrigenous input from agricultural development and expansion of the human population degraded water quality in Bahía Almirante over the last century. Documented episodes of heavy rainfall after 1970 accelerated a phase shift from dominance by branching corals of the genus Porites to dominance by the lettuce coral Agaricia tenuifolia at water depths of 5 to 10 m by increasing runoff, increasing sediment and nutrient loads, and lowering light levels. The phase shift in coral dominance was unprecedented on a millennial time scale and the degree to which it occurred varied along a gradient of terrigenous input to the Bahía.

KEY WORDS: Coral reefs · Phase shift · Agaricia tenuifolia · Land use · Eutrophication · Nutrient loading · Water quality · Bocas del Toro

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Cite this article as: Aronson RB, Hilbun NL, Bianchi TS, Filley TR, McKee BA (2014) Land use, water quality, and the history of coral assemblages at Bocas del Toro, Panamá. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 504:159-170.

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