Upwelling and the persistence of coral-reef frameworks in the eastern tropical Pacific

Ecological Monographs
By: , and 



In an era of global change, the fate and form of reef habitats will depend on shifting assemblages of organisms and their responses to multiple stressors. Multiphyletic assemblages of calcifying and bioeroding species contribute to a dynamic balance between constructive and erosive processes, and reef-framework growth occurs only when calcium-carbonate deposition exceeds erosion. Each contributing species exhibits a unique combination of environmental sensitivities, trophic needs, and competitive abilities, making the net outcome of their habitat-altering behavior difficult to predict. In this study, standardized blocks of clean, massive Porites were placed at six reef sites in the eastern tropical Pacific, in the strongly and more-weakly upwelling Gulfs of Panamá (GoP) and Chiriquí (GoC), respectively. Sites were chosen to characterize the unique thermal and carbonate-chemistry conditions of each gulf. Satellite products were used to examine differences in sea-surface productivity, and surveys were conducted to quantify the abundance of important grazing taxa. After two years in situ, the Porites blocks were collected and scanned using high-resolution computed tomography to volumetrically quantify both endolithic and epilithic habitat alteration. Scan-volumes were further classified into functional groups according to morphology to quantify external bioerosion by fish and sea urchins, as well as the calcifying and bioeroding activity of crustose coralline algae, scleractinian corals, mollusks, annelids, and barnacles. The GoP, which has higher productivity, cooler temperatures, and periodically lower pH conditions, had higher rates of macroboring, but also higher rates of calcification. These unexpectedly higher rates of calcification in the GoP were a result of high recruitment of suspension-feeding taxa, particularly barnacles and vermiform fauna that have poor reef-forming potential. External bioerosion by grazers was the dominant process influencing these dead coral substrates across both gulfs, contributing to higher rates of net erosion in the GoC and underscoring the important roles that urchins and fish play in not just removing algae on reefs, but also eroding reef habitat. Ultimately these findings reveal that the trophic requirements of habitat-altering taxa are closely tied to reef-framework stability, and that environmental conditions conducive to carbonate precipitation are not necessarily those that will lead to habitat persistence.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Upwelling and the persistence of coral-reef frameworks in the eastern tropical Pacific
Series title Ecological Monographs
DOI 10.1002/ecm.1482
Volume 91
Issue 4
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description e01482, 16 p.
Country Panama
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