Cumulative pressures from global climate and ocean change combined with multiple regional and local-scale stressors pose fundamental challenges to coral reef managers worldwide. Understanding how cumulative stressors affect coral reef vulnerability is critical for successful reef conservation now and in the future. In this review, we present the case that strategically managing for increased ecological resilience (capacity for stress resistance and recovery) can reduce coral reef vulnerability (risk of net decline) up to a point. Specifically, we propose an operational framework for identifying effective management levers to enhance resilience and support management decisions that reduce reef vulnerability. Building on a system understanding of biological and ecological processes that drive resilience of coral reefs in different environmental and socio-economic settings, we present an Adaptive Resilience-Based management (ARBM) framework and suggest a set of guidelines for how and where resilience can be enhanced via management interventions. We argue that press-type stressors (pollution, sedimentation, overfishing, ocean warming and acidification) are key threats to coral reef resilience by affecting processes underpinning resistance and recovery, while pulse-type (acute) stressors (e.g. storms, bleaching events, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks) increase the demand for resilience. We apply the framework to a set of example problems for Caribbean and Indo-Pacific reefs. A combined strategy of active risk reduction and resilience support is needed, informed by key management objectives, knowledge of reef ecosystem processes and consideration of environmental and social drivers. As climate change and ocean acidification erode the resilience and increase the vulnerability of coral reefs globally, successful adaptive management of coral reefs will become increasingly difficult. Given limited resources, on-the-ground solutions are likely to focus increasingly on actions that support resilience at finer spatial scales, and that are tightly linked to ecosystem goods and services.
For free-swimming marine species like sharks, only population genetics and demographic history analyses can be used to assess population health/status as baseline population numbers are usually unknown. We investigated the population genetics of blacktip reef sharks, Carcharhinus melanopterus; one of the most abundant reef-associated sharks and the apex predator of many shallow water reefs of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Our sampling includes 4 widely separated locations in the Indo-Pacific and 11 islands in French Polynesia with different levels of coastal development. Four-teen microsatellite loci were analysed for samples from all locations and two mitochondrial DNA fragments, the control region and cytochrome b, were examined for 10 locations. For microsatellites, genetic diversity is higher for the locations in the large open systems of the Red Sea and Australia than for the fragmented habitat of the smaller islands of French Polynesia. Strong significant structure was found for distant locations with FST values as high as ~0.3, and a smaller but still significant structure is found within French Polynesia. Both mitochondrial genes show only a few mutations across the sequences with a dominant shared haplotype in French Polynesia and New Caledonia suggesting a common lineage different to that of East Australia. Demographic history analyses indicate population expansions in the Red Sea and Australia that may coincide with sea level changes after climatic events. Expansions and flat signals are indicated for French Polynesia as well as a significant recent bottleneck for Moorea, the most human-impacted lagoon of the locations in French Polynesia.
This study presents genetic evidence that whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, are comprised of at least two populations that rarely mix and is the first to document a population expansion. Relatively high genetic structure is found when comparing sharks from the Gulf of Mexico with sharks from the Indo-Pacific. If mixing occurs between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, it is not sufficient to counter genetic drift. This suggests whale sharks are not all part of a single global metapopulation. The significant population expansion we found was indicated by both microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA. The expansion may have happened during the Holocene, when tropical species could expand their range due to sea-level rise, eliminating dispersal barriers and increasing plankton productivity. However, the historic trend of population increase may have reversed recently. Declines in genetic diversity are found for 6 consecutive years at Ningaloo Reef in Australia. The declines in genetic diversity being seen now in Australia may be due to commercial-scale harvesting of whale sharks and collision with boats in past decades in other countries in the Indo-Pacific. The study findings have implications for models of population connectivity for whale sharks and advocate for continued focus on effective protection of the world's largest fish at multiple spatial scales.
Coral reefs and the services they provide are seriously threatened by ocean acidification and climate change impacts like coral bleaching. Here, we present updated global projections for these key threats to coral reefs based on ensembles of IPCC AR5 climate models using the new Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) experiments. For all tropical reef locations, we project absolute and percentage changes in aragonite saturation state (?arag) for the period between 2006 and the onset of annual severe bleaching (thermal stress >8 degree heating weeks); a point at which it is difficult to believe reefs can persist as we know them. Severe annual bleaching is projected to start 10-15 years later at high-latitude reefs than for reefs in low latitudes under RCP8.5. In these 10-15 years, ?arag keeps declining and thus any benefits for high-latitude reefs of later onset of annual bleaching may be negated by the effects of acidification. There are no long-term refugia from the effects of both acidification and bleaching. Of all reef locations, 90% are projected to experience severe bleaching annually by 2055. Furthermore, 5% declines in calcification are projected for all reef locations by 2034 under RCP8.5, assuming a 15% decline in calcification per unit of ?arag. Drastic emissions cuts, such as those represented by RCP6.0, result in an average year for the onset of annual severe bleaching that is ~20 years later (2062 vs. 2044). However, global emissions are tracking above the current worst-case scenario devised by the scientific community, as has happened in previous generations of emission scenarios. The projections here for conditions on coral reefs are dire, but provide the most up-to-date assessment of what the changing climate and ocean acidification mean for the persistence of coral reefs.
Climate-induced coral bleaching poses a major threat to coral reef ecosystems, mostly because of the sensitivities of key habitat-forming corals to increasing temperature. However, susceptibility to bleaching varies greatly among coral genera and there are likely to be major changes in the relative abundance of different corals, even if the wholesale loss of corals does not occur for several decades. Here we document variation in bleaching susceptibility among key genera of reef-building corals in Moorea, French Polynesia, and compare bleaching incidence during mass-bleaching events documented in 1991, 1994, 2002 and 2007.
The population dynamics of shark species are generally poorly described because highly mobile marine life is challenging to investigate. Here we investigate the genetic population structure of the blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) in French Polynesia. Five demes were sampled from five islands with different inter-island distances (50-1500 km). Whether dispersal occurs between islands frequently enough to prevent moderate genetic structure is unknown. We used 11 microsatellites loci from 165 individuals and a strong genetic structure was found among demes with both F-statistics and Bayesian approaches. This differentiation is correlated with the geographic distance between islands. It is likely that the genetic structure seen is the result of all or some combination of the following: low gene flow, time since divergence, small effective population sizes, and the standard issues with the extent to which mutation models actually fit reality. We suggest low levels of gene flow as at least a partial explanation of the level of genetic structure seen among the sampled blacktip demes. This explanation is consistent with the ecological traits of blacktip reef sharks, and that the suitable habitat for blacktips in French Polynesia is highly fragmented. Evidence for spatial genetic structure of the blacktip demes we studied highlights that similar species may have populations with as yet undetected or underestimated structure. Shark biology and the market for their fins make them highly vulnerable and many species are in rapid decline. Our results add weight to the case that total bans on shark fishing are a better conservation approach for sharks than marine protected area networks.
Predicted increases in coral disease outbreaks associated with climate change have implications for coral reef ecosystems and the people and industries that depend on them. It is critical that coral reef managers understand these implications and have the ability to assess and reduce risk, detect and contain outbreaks, and monitor and minimise impacts. Here, we present a coral disease response framework that has four core components: (1) an early warning system, (2) a tiered impact assessment program, (3) scaled management actions and (4) a communication plan. The early warning system combines predictive tools that monitor the risk of outbreaks of temperature-dependent coral diseases with in situ observations provided by a network of observers who regularly report on coral health and reef state. Verified reports of an increase in disease prevalence trigger a tiered response of more detailed impact assessment, targeted research and/or management actions. The response is scaled to the risk posed by the outbreak, which is a function of the severity and spatial extent of the impacts. We review potential management actions to mitigate coral disease impacts and facilitate recovery, considering emerging strategies unique to coral disease and more established strategies to support reef resilience. We also describe approaches to communicating about coral disease outbreaks that will address common misperceptions and raise awareness of the coral disease threat. By adopting this framework, managers and researchers can establish a community of practice and can develop response plans for the management of coral disease outbreaks based on local needs. The collaborations between managers and researchers we suggest will enable adaptive management of disease impacts following evaluating the cost-effectiveness of emerging response actions and incrementally improving our understanding of outbreak causation.
Most of the worlds coral reefs line the coasts of developing nations, where impacts from intense and destructive fishing practices form critical conservation issues for managers. Overfishing of herbivorous fishes can cause phase shifts to macroalgal dominance, and fishers use of rocks as anchors lowers coral cover, giving further competitive advantage to macroalgae. Overfishing and anchoring have been studied extensively, but the role of their interaction in lowering coral reef resilience has not been quantified formally. We analyzed the combined effects of overfishing and rock anchoring on a range of reef habitat types--varying from high coral and low macroalgae cover to low coral and high macroalgae cover--in a marine park in Indonesia. We parameterized a model of coral and algal dynamics with three intensities of anchoring and fishing pressure. Results of the model indicated that damage caused by rock anchoring was equal to or possibly more devastating to coral reefs in the area than the impact of overfishing. This is an important outcome for local managers, who usually have the funds to distribute less-damaging anchors, but normally are unable to patrol regularly and effectively enough to reduce the impact of overfishing. We translated model results into an interactive visual tool that allows managers to explore the benefits of reducing anchoring frequency and fishing pressure. The potential consequences of inaction were made clear: the likelihood that any of the reef habitats will be dominated in the future by macroalgae rather than corals depends on reducing anchoring frequency, fishing pressure, or both. The tool provides a platform for strengthened relationships between managers and conservationists and can facilitate the uptake of recommendations regarding resource allocation and management actions. Conservation efforts for coral reefs in developing nations are likely to benefit from transforming model projections of habitat condition into tools local managers can understand and interact with.
The effectiveness of marine protected areas depends largely on whether people comply with the rules. We quantified temporal changes in benthic composition, reef fish biomass, and fishing effort among marine park zones (including no-take areas) to assess levels of compliance following the 2005 rezoning of the government-controlled Karimunjawa National Park (KNP), Indonesia. Four years after the rezoning awareness of fishing regulations was high amongst local fishers, ranging from 79.5±7.9 (SE) % for spatial restrictions to 97.7±1.2% for bans on the use of poisons. Despite this high awareness and strong compliance with gear restrictions, compliance with spatial restrictions was weak. In the four years following the rezoning reef fish biomass declined across all zones within KNP, with >50% reduction within the no-take Core and Protection Zones. These declines were primarily driven by decreases in the biomass of groups targeted by local fishers; planktivores, herbivores, piscivores, and invertivores. These declines in fish biomass were not driven by changes in habitat quality; coral cover increased in all zones, possibly as a result of a shift in fishing gears from those which can damage reefs (i.e., nets) to those which cause little direct damage (i.e., handlines and spears). Direct observations of fishing activities in 2009 revealed there was limited variation in fishing effort between zones in which fishing was allowed or prohibited. The apparent willingness of the KNP communities to comply with gear restrictions, but not spatial restrictions is difficult to explain and highlights the complexities of the social and economic dynamics that influence the ecological success of marine protected areas. Clearly the increased and high awareness of fishery restrictions following the rezoning is a positive step. The challenge now is to understand and foster the conditions that may facilitate compliance with spatial restrictions within KNP and marine parks worldwide.
Managing coral reefs for resilience to climate change is a popular concept but has been difficult to implement because the empirical scientific evidence has either not been evaluated or is sometimes unsupportive of theory, which leads to uncertainty when considering methods and identifying priority reefs. We asked experts and reviewed the scientific literature for guidance on the multiple physical and biological factors that affect the ability of coral reefs to resist and recover from climate disturbance. Eleven key factors to inform decisions based on scaling scientific evidence and the achievability of quantifying the factors were identified. Factors important to resistance and recovery, which are important components of resilience, were not strongly related, and should be assessed independently. The abundance of resistant (heat-tolerant) coral species and past temperature variability were perceived to provide the greatest resistance to climate change, while coral recruitment rates, and macroalgae abundance were most influential in the recovery process. Based on the 11 key factors, we tested an evidence-based framework for climate change resilience in an Indonesian marine protected area. The results suggest our evidence-weighted framework improved upon existing un-weighted methods in terms of characterizing resilience and distinguishing priority sites. The evaluation supports the concept that, despite high ecological complexity, relatively few strong variables can be important in influencing ecosystem dynamics. This is the first rigorous assessment of factors promoting coral reef resilience based on their perceived importance, empirical evidence, and feasibility of measurement. There were few differences between scientists perceptions of factor importance and the scientific evidence found in journal publications but more before and after impact studies will be required to fully test the validity of all the factors. The methods here will increase the feasibility and defensibility of including key resilience metrics in evaluations of coral reefs, as well as reduce costs. Adaptation, marine protected areas, priority setting, resistance, recovery.
Coral bleaching events vary in severity, however, to date, the hierarchy of susceptibility to bleaching among coral taxa has been consistent over a broad geographic range and among bleaching episodes. Here we examine the extent of spatial and temporal variation in thermal tolerance among scleractinian coral taxa and between locations during the 2010 thermally induced, large-scale bleaching event in South East Asia.
Related JoVE Video
Journal of Visualized Experiments
What is Visualize?
JoVE Visualize is a tool created to match the last 5 years of PubMed publications to methods in JoVE's video library.
How does it work?
We use abstracts found on PubMed and match them to JoVE videos to create a list of 10 to 30 related methods videos.
Video X seems to be unrelated to Abstract Y...
In developing our video relationships, we compare around 5 million PubMed articles to our library of over 4,500 methods videos. In some cases the language used in the PubMed abstracts makes matching that content to a JoVE video difficult. In other cases, there happens not to be any content in our video library that is relevant to the topic of a given abstract. In these cases, our algorithms are trying their best to display videos with relevant content, which can sometimes result in matched videos with only a slight relation.