Marine Biology

, Volume 154, Issue 5, pp 841–853 | Cite as

Phase-shift in coral reef communities in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), USA

Original Paper

Abstract

Characterizing the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), USA, has gained much attention over the past several decades because of apparent changes in the benthic community structure over space and time representative of patterns occurring in the Caribbean region. We used a 5-year dataset (1996–2000) of macroalgal and sponge cover and water quality measurements as predictor variables of hard coral community structure in the FKNMS. The 16 water quality variables were summarized into 4 groups by principal component analysis (PCA). Hierarchical agglomerative cluster analysis of the mean and standard deviation (SD) of the principal component scores of water quality variables separated the reef sites into two main groups (and five sub-groups), referred to as reefs of similar influence (RSI). The main groups corresponded with their geographical locations within the Florida Keys: the reefs in the Upper and Middle Keys being homogeneous and collectively, having lower water quality scores relative to reefs in the Lower Keys. Canonical correspondence analysis (CCA) between hard coral cover and key predictor variables (i.e., water quality, macroalgal cover and sponge cover) also separated the reefs in the Lower Keys from reefs in the Upper–Middle Keys, consistent with results of the cluster analysis, which categorized reefs based on RSI. These results suggest that the prevailing gradient of predictor variables may have influenced the structuring of coral reef communities at a spatial scale larger than the individual reef. Furthermore, it is conceivable that these predictor variables exerted influence for a long time rather than being a recent event. Results also revealed a pattern showing reduction in hard coral cover and species richness, and subsequent proliferation of macroalgae and sponges during the study period. Our analyses of the Florida Keys present a pattern that is consistent with the characteristics of a reef that has undergone a “phase-shift,” a phenomenon that is widely reported in the Caribbean region.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald J. Maliao
    • 1
  • Ralph G. Turingan
    • 1
  • Junda Lin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida Institute of TechnologyMelbourneUSA

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