Capstone Title

The Recovery of Scleractinian Corals Following Natural Stress

Defense Date

4-2003

Document Type

Capstone

Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Joshua Feingold

Second Advisor

David Gilliam

Abstract

Coral reef ecosystems are considered by many scientists to be undergoing worldwide decline. This trend has caused concern for the future sustainability of coral reefs. This paper describes the variety of natural stressors that are affecting coral reefs worldwide and addresses the issue of recovery of these ecosystems following disturbance events. Recovery following a disturbance event is initiated by the regeneration of lost tissue or skeleton and through the establishment of recruits in the denuded area from nearby coral populations. While the primary threats to coral survival are climatic change, increased sea surface temperatures and El Nino-Southern Oscillation events, corals have demonstrated the ability to adapt to a variety of different stressors. Corals are able to regulate their concentrations of photosynthetic pigments and may be able to acquire zooxanthellae that are better adapted to the changed environmental conditions. In addition, corals have demonstrated their ability to acclimate to increased sea surface temperatures and withstand a number of changes throughout geologic history. While spatial trends indicate that Western Atlantic reefs are more likely to exhibit a negative response to disturbances, Indo-Pacific corals maintain high rates of recovery. Temporal trends also show that corals are more likely to recover from short-term disturbances when compared to long-term disturbance events. Considering the ability of coral reefs to adapt to changing environments, it is possible that they may be able to sustain their populations in the future.

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