Title

Three decades of degradation lead to diminished impacts of severe hurricanes on Caribbean reefs

Date of Publication

2-2019 12:00 AM

Security Theme

Natural Disasters

Keywords

srhreports, naturaldisasters, country-usvirginislands, al reef, disturbance, ecology, resilience, Scleractinia, U.S. Virgin Islands, hurricanes, coral cover, macroalgae

Description

Major tropical storms are destructive phenomena with large effects on the community dynamics of multiple biomes. On coral reefs, their impacts have been described for decades, leading to the expectation that future storms should have effects similar to those recorded in the past. This expectation relies on the assumption that storm intensities will remain unchanged, and the impacted coral reef communities are similar to those of the recent past; neither assumption is correct. This study quantified the effects of two category five hurricanes on the reefs of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, where 31 years of time‐series analyses reveal chronic coral mortality, increasing macroalgal abundance, and five major hurricanes that caused acute coral mortality. Contextualized by these trends, the effects of the most recent storms, Hurricanes Irma and Maria (September 2017), on coral cover were modest. While mean absolute coral cover declined 1–4% depending on site, these effects were not statistically discernable. Following decades of increasing abundance of macroalgae, this functional group responded to the recent hurricanes with large increases in abundance on both absolute and relative scales. Decades of chronic mortality have changed the coral assemblages of St. John to create degraded communities that are resistant to severe storms.

Share

 
COinS
 
Feb 1st, 12:00 AM

Three decades of degradation lead to diminished impacts of severe hurricanes on Caribbean reefs

Major tropical storms are destructive phenomena with large effects on the community dynamics of multiple biomes. On coral reefs, their impacts have been described for decades, leading to the expectation that future storms should have effects similar to those recorded in the past. This expectation relies on the assumption that storm intensities will remain unchanged, and the impacted coral reef communities are similar to those of the recent past; neither assumption is correct. This study quantified the effects of two category five hurricanes on the reefs of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, where 31 years of time‐series analyses reveal chronic coral mortality, increasing macroalgal abundance, and five major hurricanes that caused acute coral mortality. Contextualized by these trends, the effects of the most recent storms, Hurricanes Irma and Maria (September 2017), on coral cover were modest. While mean absolute coral cover declined 1–4% depending on site, these effects were not statistically discernable. Following decades of increasing abundance of macroalgae, this functional group responded to the recent hurricanes with large increases in abundance on both absolute and relative scales. Decades of chronic mortality have changed the coral assemblages of St. John to create degraded communities that are resistant to severe storms.