Functional divergence from ecological baselines on Caribbean coral reefs.

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From: Ecography(Vol. 2022, Issue 3)
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Document Type: Brief article
Length: 295 words

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Abstract :

Understanding how emergent ecological assemblages have diverged from natural states is fundamental in predicting future functioning and services of ecosystems. Coral reefs are of particular concern due to their high susceptibility to anthropogenic stressors. Yet, little is known about their pre-disturbance ranges of natural states, and most reports of decline are based on a limited number of sites and high levels of uncertainty. Here, we used a novel approach to estimate the physical functionality of reefs across marine ecoregions based on habitat suitability and morpho-functional traits for coral species. We calibrated ecological niche models for 49 reef-building corals of the Greater Caribbean based on occurrence records and environmental predictors, which we combined with species-specific functional coefficients derived from morpho-functional traits reflecting their contribution to the reef three-dimensional structure to estimate the reef functional potential (RFP). We then assessed the degree of divergence of western Caribbean reefs by comparing our physical functionality estimates against recent field data evaluations. We found spatial variability in RFP across the Caribbean, with the highest mean value in the western Caribbean and the lowest in areas with marginal environmental conditions. Hotspots of RFP exist along the coast of Belize and the southeast of Cuba. Overall, 84% of sites along the western Caribbean showed a substantial reduction in their physical functioning, with the highest reductions occurring within hotspots, implying that reefs displaying the greatest changes have high initial RFP. We conclude that combining niche models with species morpho-functional traits is a valuable and promising approach to estimate the large-scale functional potential of communities and the degree of change in the absence of ecological baselines. These findings have important implications and could be used to guide efforts to preserve coral reefs functionality and define priority conservation areas in the Caribbean. CAPTION(S): Supplementary Material

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A695401787