Coral Reefs

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 1281–1293 | Cite as

Interactive effects of three pervasive marine stressors in a post-disturbance coral reef

  • Michael A. Gil
  • Silvan U. Goldenberg
  • Anne Ly Thai Bach
  • Suzanne C. Mills
  • Joachim Claudet


Ecosystems are commonly affected by natural, episodic disturbances that can abruptly and drastically alter communities. Although it has been shown that resilient ecosystems can eventually recover to pre-disturbed states, the extent to which communities in early stages of recovery could be affected by multiple anthropogenic stressors is poorly understood. Pervasive and rising anthropogenic stressors in coastal marine systems that could interactively affect the recovery of these systems following natural disturbances include high sedimentation, nutrient enrichment, and overfishing. Using a 6-month field experiment, we examined the effects of all combinations of these three stressors on key functional groups in the benthic community growing on simulated, post-disturbance reef patches within a system recovering from large-scale natural disturbances (corallivorous seastar outbreak and cyclone). Our study revealed that sedimentation, nutrient enrichment, and overfishing (simulated using exclusion cages) interactively affected coral survival and algal growth, with taxon-specific effects at multiple scales. First, our treatments affected corals and algae differently, with sedimentation being more detrimental to macroalgal growth but less detrimental to coral (Porites rus) survival in caged plots, driving significant interactions between sedimentation and caging for both taxa. We also observed distinct responses between coral species and between algal functional groups, with the most extensive responses from algal turf biomass, for which sedimentation suppressed the synergistic (positive) combined effect of nutrient enrichment and caging. Our findings suggest that different combinations of ubiquitous anthropogenic stressors, related to either sea- or land-based activities, interactively influence community recovery from disturbance and may alter species compositions in the resulting community. Our findings further suggest that anthropogenic stressors could promote further degradation of coral reefs following natural disturbances by inhibiting recovery to coral-dominated states that provide vital ecosystem services to coastal populations worldwide.


Anthropogenic impacts Environmental disturbance Eutrophication Terrestrial runoff Ecological resilience Ecosystem recovery 



We thank L. Jacobson, M. Adjeroud, C. Fuchs, P. Leenhardt, F. Lerouvreur, J. Zill, the staffs of CRIOBE and the Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station for logistical support, and C.W. Osenberg, R.F. Fletcher, and G. Paulay for constructive comments on previous versions of this manuscript. Funding for this work was provided by the Embassy of France in the United States (Chateaubriand Fellowship awarded to M.A.G.), the National Science Foundation (Graduate Research [DGE-802270] and Postdoctoral Research [1523875] Fellowships awarded to M.A.G. and grant OCE-1130359), Florida Sea Grant (fellowship awarded to M.A.G.), the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR-11-JSV7-012-01 LIVE AND LET DIE awarded to S.C.M. and J.C. and ANR-14-CE03-0001-01 ACRoSS awarded to J.C.), the Partnership University Fund of the French American Cultural Exchange (Ocean Bridges Program, awarded to S.C.M.), and the Fondation de France (INTHENSE project awarded to J.C.).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 671 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael A. Gil
    • 1
    • 2
  • Silvan U. Goldenberg
    • 3
    • 4
  • Anne Ly Thai Bach
    • 3
  • Suzanne C. Mills
    • 3
    • 5
  • Joachim Claudet
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Science and PolicyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  3. 3.EPHE, PSL Research University, UPVD-CNRS, USR3278 CRIOBEMooreaFrench Polynesia
  4. 4.Southern Seas Ecology Laboratories, School of Biological SciencesUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  5. 5.Laboratoire d’Excellence CORAILPerpignanFrance
  6. 6.National Center for Scientific ResearchCRIOBE, USR 3278 CNRS-EPHE-UPVDPerpignanFrance

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