Comparison of recent coral life and death assemblages to pleistocene reef communities: Implications for rapid faunal replacement on recent reefs

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Published in: Carbonates and Evaporites, v.13, no.1, 1998.


Marine ecologists and paleoecologists are increasingly recognizing that the Pleistocene and Holocene fossil record of coral reefs is the exclusive database from which an assessment of the long-term responses of reef communities to environmental perturbations may be obtained. The apparent persistence of coral communities in the face of intense fluctuations in sea level and sea surface temperature during glacial and interglacial stages of Pleistocene time is in marked contrast to dramatic fluctuations in reef community structure documented by short-term monitoring studies. We compared the taxonomic structure of live and dead coral communities on a modern patch reef currently undergoing a community transition to late Pleistocene facies exposed in the Cockburn Town fossil coral reef. Multidimensional scaling revealed that specific taxa and colony growth forms characterize life, death, and fossil assemblages. The recent decline of thickets ofAcropora cervicornis is represented by their abundance in the death assemblage, whilePorites porites dominates the coral life assemblage. Although additional study of Pleistocene reefal facies is required, the greater similarity of the death assemblage to the fossil assemblage suggests that the present Caribbean- wide decline ofA. cervicornis is without a historical precedent.