Coral Reefs

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 223–230 | Cite as

Extrinsic control of species replacement on a Holocene reef in Belize: the role of coral disease

  • R. B. Aronson
  • W. F. Precht
  • I. G. Macintyre


 Well-preserved, Holocene coral reefs provide the opportunity to discriminate between models of intrinsically driven succession and extrinsically driven species replacement, especially when paleontological patterns can be combined with ecological observations of the underlying mechanisms. Rhomboid shoals in the central shelf lagoon of the Belizean Barrier Reef experienced a recent and dramatic change in community composition. Agaricia tenuifolia replaced Acropora cervicornis as the dominant coral species at 3–15 m depth along the flanks of the reefs. We tested the hypothesis that shallowing upward caused this shift in dominance. A core extracted from 0.5 m water depth on one of the shoals, Channel Cay, revealed a shallowing-upward shift in dominance from Acropora to Porites divaricata. This successional sequence was quite different from the Acropora-to-Agaricia transition observed in four cores from 6–11 m water depth. Ecological observations showed that Agaricia became the dominant at ≥3 m depth after Acropora populations were decimated by a regional outbreak of white-band disease. The Acropora-to-Agaricia transition was clearly a case of extrinsically driven species replacement rather than an intrinsically driven, successional, shallowing-upward sequence.

Key wordsAcropora Carbonate Sedimentology Community structure Coral reef Disease Succession 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. B. Aronson
    • 1
  • W. F. Precht
    • 2
  • I. G. Macintyre
    • 3
  1. 1.Dauphin Island Sea Lab, PO Box 369, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA; and Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, Alabama 36688, USAIS
  2. 2.Law Engineering and Environmental Services, Inc., 5845 N.W. 158 Street, Miami Lakes, Florida 33014, USAUS
  3. 3.Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560, USAUS

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