, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 319-332
Date: 27 Feb 2007

Palau’s coral reefs show differential habitat recovery following the 1998-bleaching event

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Abstract

Documenting successional dynamics of coral communities following large-scale bleaching events is necessary to predict coral population responses to global climate change. In 1998, high sea surface temperatures and low cloud cover in the western Pacific Ocean caused high coral mortality on the outer exposed reefs of Palau (Micronesia), while coral mortality in sheltered bays was low. Recovery was examined from 2001 to 2005 at 13 sites stratified by habitat (outer reefs, patch reefs and bays) and depth (3 and 10 m). Two hypotheses were tested: (1) rates of change of coral cover vary in accordance with habitat, and (2) recovery rates depend on recruitment. Coral cover increased most in the sheltered bays, despite a low recruitment rate, suggesting that recovery in bays was primarily a consequence of remnant regrowth. Recruitment densities were consistently high on the wave-exposed reefs, particularly the western slopes, where recovery was attributed to both recruitment and regrowth of remnants. Recovery was initially more rapid at 10 m than 3 m on outer reefs, but in 2004, recovery rates were similar at both depths. Rapid recovery was possible because Palau’s coral reefs were buffered by remnant survival and recruitment from the less impacted habitats.

Communicated by Editor in Chief B.E. Brown.