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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 672:141-152 (2021)  -  DOI:

Long-term monitoring of benthic communities reveals spatial determinants of disturbance and recovery dynamics on coral reefs

Charlotte Moritz1,2,3,*, Simon J. Brandl 1,2,4,5, Héloïse Rouzé1,2,5, Jason Vii1,2,5,6, Gonzalo Pérez-Rosales1,2,5, Pauline Bosserelle1,2,7, Yannick Chancerelle1,2,5, René Galzin1,2,5, Vetea Liao1,2,8, Gilles Siu1,2,5, Marguerite Taiarui1,2,8, Maggy M. Nugues1,2,5, Laetitia Hédouin1,2,5

1PSL Université Paris: EPHE-UPVD-CNRS, USR 3278 CRIOBE, 98729 Papetoai, Mo’orea, French Polynesia
2Laboratoire d’Excellence ‘CORAIL ‘, Mo’orea, French Polynesia
3CMOANA Consulting, 98719 Taravao, French Polynesia
4CESAB - FRB, 5 Rue de l’École de Médecine, 34000, Montpellier, France
5PSL Research University: EPHE-CNRS-UPVD, USR 3278 CRIOBE, 66860 Perpignan CEDEX, France
6Coral Reef Ecology Consulting, 98703 Punaauia, French Polynesia
7Pacific community (SPC), Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystem division, 98848 Noumea, New Caledonia
8Direction des Ressources Marines, 98713 Papeete, French Polynesia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Coral reefs across the globe are facing threats from a variety of anthropogenic disturbances. Consequently, the proportional representation of live scleractinian corals in the benthic community has declined substantially in many regions. In contrast, parts of the reef ecosystem around Mo’orea (French Polynesia) have displayed remarkable rebound potential. Nevertheless, detailed studies of when, where, and to what extent reefs have been disturbed and subsequently recovered in the different reef habitats are lacking. Using long-term monitoring data (2004-2018), we reveal that the spatiotemporal dynamics of benthic communities differ markedly between the contiguous inner (fringing and barrier) and outer (fore) reefs. Coral communities on inner reefs vary spatially but were remarkably stable over 15 yr, exhibiting consistent levels of coral and algal cover, with no evidence for disturbance-driven regimes or community transitions. In contrast, the outer reefs showed marked declines in coral cover following consecutive acute disturbances, but coral recovered rapidly thereafter. Nevertheless, community composition changed significantly, with Pocillopora replacing Acropora as the dominant genus at several sites, indicating a more subtle but potentially critical transition into an alternative state defined by the prevalence of a single, fast-growing genus. Inner reef stability and outer reef recovery provide evidence that the effects of environmental disturbances and chronic anthropogenic stressors can manifest in fundamentally different ways, depending on prevailing conditions. Our results suggest important ecological and physical links between inner and outer reef systems that influence the observed dynamics, emphasizing that reef ecosystem management and conservation strategies need to consider all habitats.

KEY WORDS: Reef habitats · Spatial resilience · Natural perturbations · Pacific · Pocillopora · Regime shift

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Cite this article as: Moritz C, Brandl SJ, Rouzé H, Vii J and others (2021) Long-term monitoring of benthic communities reveals spatial determinants of disturbance and recovery dynamics on coral reefs. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 672:141-152.

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