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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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Present day coral reefs in St. John, like this one at Cabritte Horn (August 2022), are characterized by low coral abundances, yet they have sustained low rates of estimated gross coral calcification for decades.
Photo credit: P.J. Edmunds

Edmunds PJ, Perry CT

Decadal-scale variation in coral calcification on coral-depleted Caribbean reefs

Coral reefs throughout the Caribbean have changed in the last few decades to favor reduced population sizes of stony corals, and usually greater abundances of macroalgae and other organisms such as soft corals and sponges. The ecology of these changes is relatively well known, but their functional implications have rarely been quantified. Here we show that coral-depleted reefs in St. John, US Virgin Islands, have been able to sustain low rates of estimated gross coral calcification for decades, but that this capacity is strongly related to the presence of a single coral genus, Orbicella. Further losses of a few key coral taxa may be all that is required to transition these reefs into a negative carbonate budget state.


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