Coral Reefs

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 357–367 | Cite as

Macroalgae, nutrients and phase shifts on coral reefs: scientific issues and management consequences for the Great Barrier Reef

  • L. J. McCook


 Degradation of coral reefs often involves a “phase shift” from abundant coral to abundant macroalgae. This paper critically reviews the roles of nutrient increases in such phase shifts. I conclude that nutrient overloads can contribute to reef degradation, but that they are unlikely to lead to phase shifts simply by enhancing algal growth rates and hence allowing overgrowth of corals, unless herbivory is unusually or artificially low. Concentrations of dissolved inorganic nutrients are poor indicators of reef status, and the concept of a simple threshold concentration that indicates eutrophication has little validity. I discuss the significance and consequences of these assessments for reef management, focusing on the Great Barrier Reef, and conclude with some specific recommendations, including protection of herbivorous fishes, minimisation of terrestrial runoff, and protection of coastal reefs.

Key words Macroalgae Phase shifts Nutrients Herbivory Degradation Overgrowth 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. J. McCook
    • 1
  1. 1.Australian Institute of Marine Science and CRC: Reef Research, PMB 3, Townsville M.C., Qld, 4810, Australia e-mail: L.McCook@AIMS.Gov.AuAU

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