Chronic and catastrophic natural mortality of three common Caribbean reef corals
- Cite this article as:
- Bythell, J.C., Gladfelter, E.H. & Bythell, M. Coral Reefs (1993) 12: 143. doi:10.1007/BF00334474
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Compared to catastrophic impacts from storms, disease epidemics and bleaching events, little is known about the effects of more routine chronic mortality in reef corals. To monitor this ongoing mortality, monthly visual assessments of the cause of tissue damage were related to mortality rates (changes in planar surface area) of tagged colonies of three common reef corals: Montastrea annularis, Porites astreoides and Diploria strigosa at Buck Island Reef National Monument, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. During the study Hurricane Hugo, the most powerful cyclone to affect the area in at least 60 y, made a direct impact on the site. Effects of the hurricane were extremely localized, with certain exposed sites being almost completely razed while others showed no detectable changes in community structure. Mortality caused both by the hurricane and by other factors during the 26 month study varied between species and also between site locations around the island. Differences in susceptibility were not dependent solely on gross morphology, because two robust, massive species showed opposite responses to hurricane damage and chronic mortality. Diploria strigosa was virtually unaffected by chronic factors, but was heavily damaged at exposed sites during the hurricane. In contrast, mortality from predation and tissue necrosis was high in Montastrea annularis, but it largely escaped damage from the hurricane because it was absent from the most severely scoured locations. Porites astreoides, with populations dominated by much smaller colonies, was affected by both chronic and hurricanerelated mortality. Differences in susceptibility to the various types of natural disturbance among species, coupled with high spatial and temporal variability in the effects of such disturbances, may be critical to the maintenance of species diversity on the reef.