Coral population trajectories, increased disturbance and management intervention: a sensitivity analysis



Bernhard Riegl, National Coral Reef Institute, Nova Southeastern University, Dania, Florida, USA. Tel:+1-954-2623671; Fax: +1-954-262-4098; E-mail:


Coral reefs distant from human population were sampled in the Red Sea and one-third showed degradation by predator outbreaks (crown-of-thorns-starfish = COTS observed in all regions in all years) or bleaching (1998, 2010). Models were built to assess future trajectories. They assumed variable coral types (slow/fast growing), disturbance frequencies (5,10,20 years), mortality (equal or not), and connectivity (un/connected to un/disturbed community). Known disturbances were used to parameterize models. Present and future disturbances were estimated from remote-sensing chlorophyll and temperature data. Simulations and sensitivity analysis suggest community resilience at >20-year disturbance frequency, but degradation at higher frequency. Trajectories move from fast-grower to slow-grower dominance at intermediate disturbance frequency, then again to fast-grower dominance. A similar succession was observed in the field: Acropora to Porites to Stylophora/Pocillopora dominance on shallow reefs, and a transition from large poritids to small faviids on deep reefs. Synthesis and application: Even distant reefs are impacted by global changes. COTS impacts and bleaching were key driver of coral degradation, coral population decline could be reduced if these outbreaks and bleaching susceptibility were managed by maintaining water quality and by other interventions. Just leaving reefs alone, seems no longer a satisfactory option.