A dynamic size-structured population model: does disturbance control size structure of a population of the massive coral Gardineroseris planulata in the Eastern Pacific?
Using a long-term data set of Gardineroseris planulata (Dana) on Uva Island reef, Panamá, we developed a simulation model that relates size-specific schedules of growth and partial mortality to predation by Acanthaster planci (Linnaeus) and El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-related elevation of water temperature. We compared the model predictions to field observations for both the subpopulation of colonies that was used for model development and for the entire population. No statistically significant differences in the size-frequency distributions of the real and modeled coral populations were found for the subpopulation during any of 9 yr or for the entire population during 4 yr. These results suggested that the model relationships were reflecting field conditions. Longer-term (100 yr) simulations were conducted to assess the relative importance of predation and ENSO-related colony losses in determining the size structure of the coral population. Predation by A. planci was of overwhelming importance due to both stronger effects of predation (larger transitions) and the frequency of predation (yearly) compared to ENSO (episodically). Even the least-frequent predation scenario skewed the distribution toward smaller colonies, while simulations where populations were subjected to frequent ENSO events (≥3 yr) still maintained colonies in the largest size class. The model results suggested that sea star predators may not have been in the present abundance on this reef prior to the last 30 yr; with predators present, the model predicts that the distribution would be skewed toward smaller colonies.
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