Multiscale change in reef coral species diversity and composition in the Tropical Eastern Pacific

Abstract

Both natural and anthropogenic factors are changing coral-reef structure and function worldwide. Long-term monitoring has revealed declines in the local composition and species diversity of reefs. Here we report changes in coral-reef community structure over 12 yr (2000–2012) at 17 sites and three spatial scales (reef, gulf and country) in the Tropical Eastern Pacific (Panama). We found a significant 4% annual decline in species population sizes at the country and gulf scales, with significant declines ranging from 3 to 32% at all but one reef. No significant temporal change in expected richness was found at the country scale or in the Gulf of Chiriquí, but a 7% annual decline in expected species richness was found in the Gulf of Panama. There was a 2% increase in community evenness in the Gulf of Chiriquí, but no change in the Gulf of Panama. Significant temporal turnover was found at the country and gulf scales and at 29% of the reefs, a finding mostly explained by changes in species abundance, and losses and gains of rare species. Temporal trends in alpha and beta diversity metrics were explained by water temperature maxima, anomalies and variation that occurred even in the absence of a strong El Niño warming event.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank Carlos Guevara, Marcela Herrera, Jorge Morales, Carlos Vega, Aldo Croquer and Carlos Sanhil for assistance in the field. The Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Science Program of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute sponsored the monitoring project to HMG. Thanks to the Government of Panama for financial support to CG during data analysis and manuscript preparation (IFARHU-SENACYT) and to the Panamanian Ministry of Environment for providing the permits to work in protected areas. AG acknowledges the support of the Canada Research Chair program, a Killam Fellowship and an NSERC Discovery grant. AG and CG acknowledge the support of the Québec Centre for Biodiversity Science.

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Correspondence to Catalina G. Gomez.

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Gomez, C.G., Gonzalez, A. & Guzman, H.M. Multiscale change in reef coral species diversity and composition in the Tropical Eastern Pacific. Coral Reefs 37, 105–120 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-017-1637-y

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Keywords

  • Coral reef
  • Panama
  • Tropical Eastern Pacific
  • Alpha diversity
  • Turnover
  • Biodiversity