Get access

Ecological persistence interrupted in Caribbean coral reefs


  • John M. Pandolfi,

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Marine Studies and Department of Earth Sciences, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Jeremy B.C. Jackson

    1. Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA; and Center for Tropical Paleoecology and Archeology, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Box 2072, Balboa, Republic of Panamá
    Search for more papers by this author



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.