Marine Biology

, Volume 161, Issue 12, pp 2719–2734 | Cite as

Evaluating the causal basis of ecological success within the scleractinia: an integral projection model approach

  • Peter J. EdmundsEmail author
  • Scott C. Burgess
  • Hollie M. Putnam
  • Marissa L. Baskett
  • Lorenzo Bramanti
  • Nick S. Fabina
  • Xueying Han
  • Michael P. Lesser
  • Joshua S. Madin
  • Christopher B. Wall
  • Denise M. Yost
  • Ruth D. Gates
Review, Concept, and Synthesis


Many tropical corals have declined in abundance in the last few decades, and evaluating the causal basis of these losses is critical to understanding how coral reefs will change in response to ongoing environmental challenges. Motivated by the likelihood that marine environments will become increasingly unfavorable for coral growth as they warm and become more acidic (i.e., ocean acidification), it is reasonable to evaluate whether specific phenotypic traits of the coral holobiont are associated with ecological success (or failure) under varying environmental conditions including those that are adverse to survival. Initially, we asked whether it was possible to identify corals that are resistant or sensitive to such conditions by compiling quantitative measures of their phenotypic traits determined through empirical studies, but we found only weak phenotypic discrimination between ecological winners and losers, or among taxa. To reconcile this outcome with ecological evidence demonstrating that coral taxa are functionally unequal, we looked beyond the notion that phenotypic homogeneity arose through limitations of empirical data. Instead, we examined the validity of contemporary means of categorizing corals based on ecological success. As an alternative means to distinguish among functional groups of corals, we present a demographic approach using integral projection models (IPMs) that link organismal performance to demographic outcomes, such as the rates of population growth and responses to environmental stress. We describe how IPMs can be applied to corals so that future research can evaluate within a quantitative framework the extent to which changes in physiological performance influence the demographic underpinnings of ecological performance.


Coral Reef Population Growth Rate Colony Size Ocean Acidification Coral Species 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was conducted as part of the “Tropical coral reefs of the future: modeling ecological outcomes from the analyses of current and historical trends” Working Group (to RDG and PJE) funded by NSF (Grant #EF-0553768), the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the State of California. We acknowledge additional support from NSF (OCE 04-17413 and 10-26851 to PJE, DEB 03-43570 and 08-51441 to PJE, OCE 07-52604 to RDG), and the US EPA (FP917199 to HMP). This is a contribution of the Moorea Coral Reef, Long-Term Ecological Research site, SOEST (9205), Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (1063), and California State University, Northridge (221).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 46 kb)
227_2014_2547_MOESM2_ESM.xls (332 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLS 332 kb)
227_2014_2547_MOESM3_ESM.docx (89 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (DOCX 88 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter J. Edmunds
    • 1
    Email author
  • Scott C. Burgess
    • 2
    • 3
  • Hollie M. Putnam
    • 4
  • Marissa L. Baskett
    • 5
  • Lorenzo Bramanti
    • 1
    • 6
  • Nick S. Fabina
    • 2
  • Xueying Han
    • 7
    • 8
  • Michael P. Lesser
    • 9
  • Joshua S. Madin
    • 10
  • Christopher B. Wall
    • 4
  • Denise M. Yost
    • 4
  • Ruth D. Gates
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of BiologyCalifornia State UniversityNorthridgeUSA
  2. 2.Center for Population BiologyUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological ScienceFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  4. 4.Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, School of Ocean and Earth Science and TechnologyUniversity of Hawai’iKaneoheUSA
  5. 5.Department of Environmental Science and PolicyUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA
  6. 6.UMR 8222, LECOB, Observatoire OceanologiqueUPMCBanyuls sur merFrance
  7. 7.Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology and the Coastal Research Center, Marine Science InstituteUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  8. 8.National Center for Ecological Analysis and SynthesisSanta BarbaraUSA
  9. 9.School of Marine Sciences and Ocean EngineeringUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  10. 10.Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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