Changes in the coral reefs of San Blas, Caribbean Panama: 1983 to 1990
- Cite this article as:
- Shulman, M.J. & Robertson, D.R. Coral Reefs (1996) 15: 231. doi:10.1007/BF01787457
Between 1983–1990 large changes in abundances of corals and macroalgae occurred on shallow (1–5m) lagoonal reefs in the San Blas Islands of Panama. In 1983 these reefs were dominated by the vertical plate forms of the coral generaAgaricia andMillepora. By 1990 we observed the following major changes: (1) loss of approximately one-half of the initial live coral cover, primarily during 1983–1986, and almost completely due to a decline in the abundance of Agaricia. Corals only occupied 12–26% of the reef area by 1990. (2) Macroalgae (mostlyDictyota andHalimeda) increased from ∼ 2% cover in 1983 to 28% cover in 1990. (3) Microalgal cover increased two to ten-fold between 1983 and 1986, then declined to 50% greater than the initial values by 1990. There are at least three contributors to these changes in the benthic community: (1) a coral bleaching event in 1983; which disproportionately affectedAgaricia; (2) the mass mortality ofDiadema antillarum in 1983, which led to decreases in grazing pressure on algae; and (3) possible increases in sediment and nutrient loads due to runoff from deforested mountainsides. Temporal patterns and observations of interactions suggest that the decrease inDiadema herbivory is a major factor in this shift in coral and algal populations.