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Disturbance-Induced Changes in Population Size Structure Promote Coral Biodiversity.

Authors
  • Álvarez-Noriega, Mariana
  • Madin, Joshua S
  • Baird, Andrew H
  • Dornelas, Maria
  • Connolly, Sean R
Type
Published Article
Journal
The American Naturalist
Publisher
The University of Chicago Press
Publication Date
Nov 01, 2023
Volume
202
Issue
5
Pages
604–615
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1086/726738
PMID: 37963122
Source
Medline
Keywords
Language
English
License
Unknown

Abstract

AbstractReef-building coral assemblages are typically species rich, yet the processes maintaining high biodiversity remain poorly understood. Disturbance has long been thought to promote coral species coexistence by reducing the strength of competition (i.e., the intermediate disturbance hypothesis [IDH]). However, such disturbance-induced effects are insufficient to inhibit competitive exclusion. Nevertheless, there are other mechanisms by which disturbance and, more generally, environmental variation can favor coexistence. Here, we develop a size-structured, stochastic coral competition model calibrated with field data from two common colony morphologies to investigate the effects of hydrodynamic disturbance on community dynamics. We show that fluctuations in wave action can promote coral species coexistence but that this occurs via interspecific differences in size-dependent mortality rather than solely via stochastic fluctuations in competition (i.e., free space availability). While this mechanism differs from that originally envisioned in the IDH, it is nonetheless a mechanism by which intermediate levels of disturbance do promote coexistence. Given the sensitivity of coexistence to disturbance frequency and intensity, anthropogenic changes in disturbance regimes are likely to affect coral assemblages in ways that are not predictable from single-population models.

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