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Alternative states on coral reefs: beyond coral-macroalgal phase shifts
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Systems Ecology. Stockholm University, Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Systems Ecology. Stockholm University, Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Systems Ecology. Stockholm University, Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Stockholm University, Stockholm Resilience Centre.
2009 (English)In: Marine Ecology Progress Series, ISSN 0171-8630, E-ISSN 1616-1599, Vol. 376, 295-306 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Degradation of coral reefs is often associated with changes in community structure where macroalgae become the dominant benthic life form. These phase shifts can be difficult to reverse. The debate on coral reef phase shifts has not focused on reports of coral reefs becoming dominated by other life forms following disturbance. A review of the primary and grey literature indicates that reefs dominated by corallimorpharia, soft corals, sponges and sea urchins can enter an alternative state as a result of a phase shift. Shifts can be triggered by pulse disturbances that cause large-scale coral mortality, and may become stable as a result of positive feedback mechanisms. However, they may differ from the archetypical coral-macroalgae shift, depending on the factors driving the shift; whereas coral-macroalgae and coral-urchin shifts seem to be driven by loss of top-down control through overfishing, shifts to corallimorpharian, soft coral and sponge dominance seem more associated with changes in bottom-tip dynamics. Understanding the differences and similarities in mechanisms that cause and maintain this variety of alternative states will aid management aimed at preventing and reversing phase shifts of coral reefs.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2009. Vol. 376, 295-306 p.
Keyword [en]
Phase shifts, Coral reefs, Alternative states, Corallimorpharia, Soft coral, Sponge, Urchin barren
National Category
Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources Ecology
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-34132DOI: 10.3354/meps07815ISI: 000263999900024OAI: diva2:284364
Available from: 2010-01-06 Created: 2010-01-06 Last updated: 2012-11-09Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Upholding the coral loop: Resilience, alternative stable states and feedbacks in coral reefs
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Upholding the coral loop: Resilience, alternative stable states and feedbacks in coral reefs
2010 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Coral reefs are suffering unprecedented declines in coral cover and species diversity. These changes are often associated with  substantial shifts in community structure to new dominant organisms. Ultimately, these “phase shifts” can be persistent and very difficult to return from. Building insurance against degradation and decreasing the likelihood of reefs undergoing shifts to undesirable states will require sustainable management practices that uphold coral reef resilience. This thesis consists of five papers that contribute new knowledge useful for managing the resilience of coral reefs, and other marine ecosystems. Paper I shows how the morphology of natural substrate (dead coral colonies) can significantly influence coral recruitment patterns. Paper II focuses on larval lipid levels, a key determinant of coral dispersal potential, in a common Caribbean coral (Favia fragum). It shows that i) lipid levels exhibit a significant, non-linear reduction throughout the larval release period of F. fragum and ii) exposure to a common pollutant (copper) could potentially lead to a more rapid lipid consumption in the larvae. Paper III presents a broader analysis of the different undesirable states a coral reef can shift to as a consequence of reef degradation. It concludes that different states are caused by different driving factors and that management must explicitly acknowledge this. Paper IV proposes a suite of resilience indicators that can help managers assess when a coral-dominated reef might be moving towards a shift to an undesirable state. These indicators capture key-processes occuring on different temporal and spatial scales and signal resilience loss early enough for managers to take appropriate measures. Finally, Paper V reviews the feedback loops that reinforce the undesirable states of five important marine ecosystems and suggests certain strategies that can ease the restoration back to healthier conditions. Managing these critical feedbacks will recquire monitoring the processes underpinning these feedbacks, breaking already established feedbacks loops through large-scale management trials and acknowledging transdisciplinary solutions that move management beyond the discipline of ecology

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University, 2010. 39 p.
resilience, alternative stable states, regimes, feedbacks, recruitment, coral reefs, marine ecosystem management, regime shifts, phase shifts
National Category
Research subject
Natural Resources Management
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-34037 (URN)978-91-7155-997-5 (ISBN)
Public defence
2010-01-29, Nordenskiöldsalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 12, Stockholm, 09:00 (English)
At the time of the doctoral defense, the following papers were unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 2: Submitted. Paper 5: In progress.Available from: 2010-01-07 Created: 2010-01-04 Last updated: 2010-01-07Bibliographically approved

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Norström, Albert V.Nyström, MagnusLokrantz, JerkerFolke, Carl
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