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The Expanding Scale of Species Turnover Events on Coral Reefs in Belize

Richard B. Aronson, Ian G. Macintyre, William F. Precht, Thaddeus J. T. Murdoch and Cheryl M. Wapnick
Ecological Monographs
Vol. 72, No. 2 (May, 2002), pp. 233-249
Published by: Wiley
DOI: 10.2307/3100026
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3100026
Page Count: 17
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The Expanding Scale of Species Turnover Events on Coral Reefs in Belize
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Abstract

Beginning in the late 1980s, white-band disease nearly eliminated the staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis from reefs in the central shelf lagoon of Belize. The lettuce coral Agaricia tenuifolia replaced Acropora cervicornis in the early 1990s, but anomalously high water temperatures in 1998 caused severe bleaching and catastrophic mortality of Agaricia tenuifolia. The short-lived transition in dominance from Acropora cervicornis to Agaricia tenuifolia left an unambiguous signature in the fossil record of these uncemented lagoonal reefs. Analysis of 38 cores, extracted from 22 sampling stations in a 375-km2 area of the central lagoon, showed that Acropora cervicornis dominated continuously for at least 3000 years prior to the recent events. Agaricia tenuifolia occasionally grew in small patches, but no coral-to-coral replacement sequence occurred over the entire area until the late 1980s. Within a decade, the scale of species turnover increased from tens of square meters or less to hundreds of square kilometers or more. This unprecedented increase in the scale of turnover events is rooted in the accelerating pace of ecological change on coral reefs at the regional level.

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