Coral Reefs

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 59–70

Constraints on the diversity and distribution of coral-reef assemblages in the volcanic Northern Mariana Islands


DOI: 10.1007/s00338-009-0545-1

Cite this article as:
Houk, P. & Starmer, J. Coral Reefs (2010) 29: 59. doi:10.1007/s00338-009-0545-1


A central problem for jurisdictional scientists and managers is to reconcile how multiple environmental regimes, encompassing continuous, intermittent and human disturbances, influence pertinent ecological management targets. The presence of heterogeneous environments throughout the volcanic Northern Mariana Islands (NMI), coupled with the availability of descriptive physical data, form the basis examining environmental–ecological relationships. Since 2003, coral abundances and macrobiota (all visibly recognizable taxa greater than 2 cm) occurrences have been estimated at 42 reef slopes along the volcanic archipelago. Analyses showed that reef types acted as surrogates of coral growth capacity and the modern assemblages residing upon them, being highest and most favorable, respectively, where relatively high salinity levels, low-to-moderate wave exposure, and an absence of volcanic activity for ~90 years existed. However, island size was the greatest constraint on species richness overall, but relations with corals were dampened by volcanic activity and increased for sponges and algae where greater connection with the island aquifer existed (i.e., relatively low salinity levels). The number of years since volcanic activity has occurred was positively related to the residuals of species–area relationships and coral cover, with a ~90-year time frame predicted for recovery. Notably, no relationships with watershed characteristics or distance from CNMI’s main fishing port and coral-reef assemblages or species richness were found. Further examination of specific management concerns, such as fisheries and feral animal populations, should be designed to account for the inherent differences in driving environmental regimes. Management strategies focused upon conserving biodiversity and ecosystem function should be centered at the island level, matching the operational scale of dominant environmental–ecological relationships. Marine reserves represent a strategy pertinent for the remote NMI; a spatial structure is discussed.


Coral-reef assemblagesEnvironmental driversManagementNorthern Mariana IslandsSpecies richnessVolcanic disturbances

Supplementary material

338_2009_545_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (2 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 2029 kb)
338_2009_545_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (131 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 131 kb)
338_2009_545_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (7 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (PDF 8 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Division of Environmental QualitySaipanUSA
  2. 2.Pacific Marine Resources Institute, Inc.SaipanUSA
  3. 3.Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Coastal Resources ManagementSaipanUSA