, Volume 51, Issue 1–4, pp 501–515 | Cite as

Biologic response to environmental stress in tropical reefs: Lessons from modern Polynesian coralgal atolls and Middle Permian sponge and Shamovella-microbe reefs (Capitan Limestone USA)

  • J. A. FagerstromEmail author
  • O. Weidlich
Original Paper


Despite prejudices that comparisons of paleoecological patterns in modern and fossil reef communities are of doubtful validity, we compare the biologic response of living coralgal reefs in French Polynesia to environmental stress with an exceptionally well exposed Middle Permian sponge reef and Shamovella-microbial reef of the Capitan Limestone in New Mexico. In the western Tuamotu Archipelago, reef margins are characterized by depth-related changes of biodiversity. The subtidal basic reefbuilding community contains the highest diversity (23 coral and 6 calcareous algal species). With decreasing water depth and increasing environmental stress, diversity reaches a minimum of five taxa on the reef flat. The Capitan consists of two reef stages. Reefbuilders of the lowermost exposed part of Stage 1 formed a cement-rich sponge reef with 42 taxa (28 sponge species). Decreasing water depth along the reef face is accompanied by loss of five taxa, variations in the gross morphology of sponges and changes in framework architecture. Stage 2, dominated by Shamovella obscura, one bryozoan species and microbes, is sandwiched between two unconformities suggesting much shallower water and higher environmental stress. Despite differences in shelf profile and taxonomy, both the modern and Permian reefbuilders respond to increasing environmental stress with diversity impoverishment and dominance of binders.


Warm-water Coralgal reefs Sponge reefs Environmental stress Biotic response Holocene Permian 



It gives Fagerstrom great pleasure to acknowledge the generous logistical support provided by B Salvat, R Galzin (EPHE, Perpignan), F Rougerie (ORSTOM de Tahiti), C Payri (Université du Pacifique, Tahiti) and J-P Rochette (EVAAM station, Takapoto) during fieldwork at Takapoto, Tikihau and Moorea during 1987–1993. We are deeply appreciative for discussions on the outcrop and in correspondence with JK Rigby (Brigham Young University) and B Senowbari-Daryan (University of Erlangen, Germany) regarding the functional morphology of Gigantospongia discoforma and to M Bernecker (University of Erlangen) for help in reef outcrop mapping at Bat Cave Draw. We also thank Y Chamberlain (Portsmouth Univ., UK) for identification of the encrusting algae collected by Fagerstrom at Takapoto and Tikihau, D Keats (University of the Western Cape, Bellville, S. Africa) for suggestions in understanding the manner of algal growth and their ecologic significance and G Faure (Montpellier, France) for help in identifying corals. The work of Weidlich has been kindly supported by the German Research Foundation (projects We1804/2 and We1804/8). We also thank JK Rigby, M Bernecker, GF Camoin and L Montaggioni for helpful suggestions


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ecole Pratique des Hautes EtudesUMR 8046 EPHE-CNRS, Universite de PerpignanPerpignan, CedexFrance
  2. 2.Department of Geology, Royal HollowayUniversity of LondonEghamUnited Kingdom
  3. 3.Ann ArborUSA

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