Survival Strategies: Coral Reefs

Corals species respond differently to disturbances in terms of growth and recovery rate. Based on the results of a NCEAS Working Group, scientists now know that corals reduce each others’ abundance in good times, and in tougher times with more disturbance, they can help each other persist by reducing the chance that algae takes over a coral reef. The results were published in The American Naturalist
The Working Group developed and analyzed a model outlining different survival strategies corals use in response to disturbances -- “resisting” coral species that tolerate stress and “resilient” coral that recovers quickly. The model also includes interspecies competition and invaders like microalgae. According to the model, reefs that contain corals with a diversity of responses to disturbances will be more likely to survive than reefs with any single response strategy alone. Enhanced resilience occurs through “competitor-enabled rescue” where each coral increases the potential for the other to recover from disturbance. 
Therefore, conservation management aimed at protecting resilience under global climate change requires consideration of both diversity and connectivity between sites experiencing differential disturbances.   
Lead author, Marissa Baskett, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis, was a NCEAS Postdoctoral Associate and member of the Working Group “Tropical coral reefs of the future: Modeling ecological outcomes from the analyses of current and historical trends.”
Response diversity can increase ecological resilience to disturbance in coral reefs
Marissa L. Baskett, Nicholas S. Fabian, and Kevin Gross
The American Naturalist, August , 2014
This Working Group was supported by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis which was funded by a grant from NSF (Grant #EF-0553768), the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the State of California.


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Posted on August 1, 2014