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Keywords:

  • Barbados;
  • Caribbean Sea;
  • community ecology;
  • community structure;
  • Coral reefs;
  • corals;
  • ecosystem stability;
  • habitat degradation;
  • Pleistocene;
  • rare species

Abstract

The recent mass mortality of Caribbean reef corals dramatically altered reef community structure and begs the question of the past stability and persistence of coral assemblages before human disturbance began. We report within habitat stability in coral community composition in the Pleistocene fossil record of Barbados for at least 95 000 years despite marked variability in global sea level and climate. Results were consistent for surveys of both common and rare taxa. Comparison of Pleistocene and modern community structure shows that Recent human impacts have changed coral community structure in ways not observed in the preceding 220 000 years.