Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles





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Plos One



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Coral reefs are rare in the Galapagos and there is concern that, like in many areas around the world, they may be degrading due to increasing anthropogenic pressure, which can cause changes and reorganizations of structure and function with associated phase shifts. Algae of the genus Caulerpa J.V. Lamouroux, 1809 are known as widespread and persistent marine invaders. They grow rapidly, particularly in disturbed areas where they can opportunistically monopolize substratum and compete with native species, thus reducing biodiversity. Caulerpa chemnitzia increased in abundance and overgrew corals on the reef since 2012, ultimately raising fears that a phase-shift from coral to algae might be imminent. However, from 2019 onwards algae populations strongly contracted and while not having returned to baseline level, there is currently low risk of corals being displaced. Visual censuses were conducted on a yearly basis since 2004 using sample quadrats (0.5 x 0.5m) every 5 m along a 50-m-long transects at a depth of 6–15 m at 5 permanent subtidal ecological monitoring sites around Darwin. In addition, 10 m photo-transects were taken using a graduated meter-long measuring stick in the centre of the frame in 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2021 at a depth of 15m at Wellington reef. The authors hypothesize that this species could have expanded its distribution over Wellington Reef because of its known morphological plasticity due to a response to change in the environment, in this case high temperature and low nutrients. As ENSO events are predicted to increase in intensity and frequency due to the impact of climate change it is important to develop and implement a functional alert system. Early Detection Rapid Response (EDRR) protocols are recommended to avoid climate driven Non-Indigenous Species (NIS) entering the GMR or for native species becoming invasive due to warming-related phase shifts.







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S1 Fig. Graph showing the yearly averaged NOAA SST data from the Coral Reed Watch for the region surrounding Darwin and Wolf (lon: (-92.5, -91.5), lat: (1, 2)).

Data is at 50 km resolution from 2001 to 2019 and at 5 km resolution from 2020 onwards.

S1 Table. Table showing the sites monitored at Darwin since the beginning of the subtidal ecological monitoring project in 2004.

Sites listed with a tick were monitored at least once during the year, those marked with a P are occasions on which the divers could not do a full monitoring of the site and only registered presence of species rather than percentage cover. The site marked with an “In” represents an inconsistent transect which was placed in a different location to normal and whose data is incompatible with the rest.

S1 File. MATLAB script.

Additional Comments

We would like to thank the Galapagos National Park for granting us authorization to carry out this investigation (research permit number: PC-24–21). This publication is contribution number 2439 of the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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