Coral Reefs

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 71-81

First online:

Wave stress and coral community structure in Hawaii

  • S. J. DollarAffiliated withHawaii Institute of Marine Biology

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The most significant factor determining the structure of Hawaiian reef coral communities is physical disturbance from waves. Sequential analysis of community structure off the west coast of the island of Hawaii shows that variation of wave energy and storm frequency clearly affects organization in time and space. Normal conditions of low wave stress maintain four well-defined reef zones; diversity is highest at intermediate depths and decreases in physically rigorous shallow areas and stable deep reef slopes. Intermediate level storm wave events cause variable effects within the reef zones, but the zonation pattern, as a whole, is maintained. Diversity increases in zones that are dominated by a single species largely through nonlethal fragmentation and transport, but decreases in the zone of most equitable species distribution. Conversely, severe infrequent storm disturbances that cause massive mortality to all coral species wipe out the pattern of community structure and return the entire community to a low diversity early successional stage.