The recovery of octocoral populations following periodic disturbance masks their vulnerability to persistent global change

James I. Cant*, Lorenzo Bramanti, Georgios Tsounis, Ángela Martínez Quintana, Howard R. Lasker, Peter J. Edmunds

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

As the major form of coral reef regime shift, stony coral to macroalgal transitions have received considerable attention. In the Caribbean, however, regime shifts in which scleractinian corals are replaced by octocoral assemblages hold potential for maintaining reef associated communities. Accordingly, forecasting the resilience of octocoral assemblages to future disturbance regimes is necessary to understand these assemblages’ capacity to maintain reef biodiversity. We parameterised integral projection models quantifying the survival, growth, and recruitment of the octocorals, Antillogorgia americana, Gorgonia ventalina, and Eunicea flexuosa, in St John, US Virgin Islands, before, during, and after severe hurricane disturbance. Using these models, we forecast the density of populations of each species under varying future hurricane regimes. We demonstrate that although hurricanes reduce population growth, A. americana, G. ventalina, and E. flexuosa each display a capacity for quick recovery following storm disturbance. Despite this recovery potential, we illustrate how the population dynamics of each species correspond with a longer- term decline in their population densities. Despite their resilience to periodic physical disturbance events, ongoing global change jeopardises the future viability of octocoral assemblages.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalCoral Reefs
Early online date7 Feb 2024
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Feb 2024

Keywords

  • Ecological forecasting
  • Gorgonians
  • Hurricane disturbance
  • Integral projection models (IPMs)
  • Stochastic population growth rate
  • US Virgin Islands

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