School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences Faculty Publications and Presentations

Changes in coral reef communities among the Florida Keys, 1996–2003

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Hard coral (Scleractinia and Milleporina) cover data were examined from 37 sites surveyed annually from 1996 to 2003 in the Florida reef tract, USA. Analyses of species numbers and total cover showed that site-to-site differences were generally very much greater than differences among times within sites. There were no significant differences among different geographical areas within the reef tract (Upper, Middle and Lower Keys). Large-scale changes documented included a reduction in species numbers and total cover on both deep and shallow offshore reefs between 1997 and 1999 followed by no recovery in cover, and only scant evidence of any recovery in species numbers by 2003. These changes coincided with bleaching events in 1997 and 1998, and the passage of Hurricane Georges through the Lower Keys in 1998. The lack of recovery among offshore reefs suggests that they were no longer resilient. Multivariate analyses revealed that some sites showed relatively little temporal variation in community composition, essentially random in direction, while others showed relatively large year-on-year changes. There was little evidence of any major region-wide changes affecting assemblage composition, or of any events that had impacted all of the sampling sites in any single year. Instead, different sites exhibited differing patterns of temporal variation, with certain sites displaying greater variation than others. Changes in community composition at some sites are interpreted in the light of knowledge of events at those sites and the relative sensitivities of species to various stressors, such as changes in cover of Acropora palmata and Millepora complanata at Sand Key following the bleaching events and hurricane in 1998, and declines in Montastraea annularis at Smith Shoal following a harmful algal bloom in 2002. For most sites, however, it is impossible to determine the causes of observed variation.


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Coral Reefs