Mechanical vulnerability explains size-dependent mortality of reef corals

J.S. Madin, A.H. Baird, Maria Dornelas, S.R. Connolly

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Understanding life history and demographic variation among species within communities is a central ecological goal. Mortality schedules are especially important in ecosystems where disturbance plays a major role in structuring communities, such as coral reefs. Here, we test whether a trait-based, mechanistic model of mechanical vulnerability in corals can explain mortality schedules. Specifically, we ask whether species that become increasingly vulnerable to hydrodynamic dislodgment as they grow have bathtub-shaped mortality curves, whereas species that remain mechanically stable have decreasing mortality rates with size, as predicted by classical life history theory for reef corals. We find that size-dependent mortality is highly consistent between species with the same growth form and that the shape of size-dependent mortality for each growth form can be explained by mechanical vulnerability. Our findings highlight the feasibility of predicting assemblage-scale mortality patterns on coral reefs with trait-based approaches.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1008-1015
Number of pages8
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number8
Early online date3 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2014


  • Biomechanics
  • Colonial
  • Demography
  • Disturbance
  • Life history
  • Mortality
  • Reef coral


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