Coral Reefs: An Ecosystem in Transition

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The Paleoecology of Coral Reefs

  • John M. PandolfiAffiliated withARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Centre for Marine Science, School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland Email author 

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Reefs are one of the oldest ecosystems in the world, and coral reefs have had a rich and varied history over hundreds of millions of years. The long-term history of living reef organisms provides an essential window in which to view a number of fundamental evolutionary and ecological processes over extended time frames not available to modern ecology over years or decades. Many of the constituents of modern reefs are calcifying organisms that leave a record of their presence in the fossil record. Thus, coral reef paleoecology has been undertaken on tropical ecosystems worldwide with applications in ecology, evolution, biogeography, extinction risk, conservation and management, and global change biology. Because many reef organisms secrete their calcareous skeletons at or near isotopic equilibrium with ambient seawater, they have also been used to reconstruct environmental conditions over long time frames. The examination of ecological and evolutionary change in the context of environmental variability provides an ideal framework for understanding coral reef paleoecology and placing the modern biodiversity crisis in an historical context.


Coral reefs paleoecology reef management ecology evolution global change biodiversity evolutionary turnover biogeography conservation biology