Crown-of-thorns starfish undermine the resilience of coral populations on the Great Barrier Reef

Vercelloni, Julie, Caley, M. Julian and Mengersen, Kerrie (2017) Crown-of-thorns starfish undermine the resilience of coral populations on the Great Barrier Reef. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 26 7: 846-853. doi:10.1111/geb.12590

Author Vercelloni, Julie
Caley, M. Julian
Mengersen, Kerrie
Title Crown-of-thorns starfish undermine the resilience of coral populations on the Great Barrier Reef
Journal name Global Ecology and Biogeography   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1466-8238
Publication date 2017-07-01
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1111/geb.12590
Open Access Status Not yet assessed
Volume 26
Issue 7
Start page 846
End page 853
Total pages 8
Place of publication Chichester, West Sussex, United Kingdom
Publisher Wiley-Blackwell Publishing
Language eng
Formatted abstract
Aim: Increasingly frequent and intense disturbances of many kinds are reducing the populations of habitat-forming species. For example, disturbances, including coral bleaching, storms and cyclones, coral disease and Crown-of-Thorns starfish (CoTS) outbreaks, have been important contributors to the global decline of coral populations. Understanding these the effects of such disturbances is challenging but necessary for their effective management. In this paper, we provide a novel spatially and temporally explicit perspective on the role of multiple and interacting disturbances on population dynamics.

Location: Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Australia.

Time period: 1995–2011.

Major taxa studied: Acropora species.

Methods: A semi-parametric Bayesian hierarchical model was used to estimate the form and strength of the cumulative effects of multiple disturbances that have affected coral populations at different locations, frequencies and intensities, and in different orders over 16 years. Boosted regression trees and random forest models were used to rank the relative importance of four types of disturbances in reducing the ability of coral populations to recover following disturbance.

Results: We show that while all the disturbance agents examined had clear negative impacts, coral predation by CoTS was the strongest contributor to the decline of coral cover and resilience of coral populations. The effects of multiple disturbances on individual reef sites were overwhelmingly additive.

Main conclusions: Reduction of coral predation through control of CoTS could substantially reduce the severity of disturbances along the GBR and promote greater resilience, and thereby recovery, of coral populations.
Keyword Additive effects
Bayesian statistics
Coral trajectories
Large spatial-scale
Multiple disturbances
Population dynamics
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status Non-UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Global Change Institute Publications
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