Coral Reefs

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 117-125

First online:

Disturbance, coral reef communities, and changing ecological paradigms

  • R. H. KarlsonAffiliated withEcology Program, Department of Biology, University of Delaware
  • , L. E. HurdAffiliated withEcology Program, Department of Biology, University of Delaware

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We examine changing ecological theory regarding the role of disturbance in natural communities and relate past and emerging paradigms to coral reefs. We explore the elements of this theory, including patterns (diversity, distribution, and abundance) and processes (competition, succession, and disturbance), using currently evolving notions concerning matters of scale (temporal and spatial), local versus regional species richness, and the equilibrium versus nonequilibrium controversy. We conclude that any attempt to categorize coral reef communities with respect to disturbance regimes will depend on the question being asked and the desired level of resolution: local assemblage versus regional species pool, successional versus geological time, and on the taxonomic and tropic affinities of species included in the study. As with many communities in nature, coral reefs will prove to be mosaics of species assemblages with equilibrial and nonequilibrial dynamics.