Coral reef biodiversity abstract

Coral Health and Monitoring Program coral at coral.AOML.ERL.GOV
Sat Jul 29 19:40:52 EDT 1995

As part of our continuing effort to distribute information regarding 
coral health and monitoring, we are circulating the following 

Sebens, K.P. 1994. Biodiversity of coral reefs: What are we  
losing and why?  Am. Zool. 34(1): 115-133. 

Coral reefs are threatened by numerous anthropogenic impacts,  
some of which have already had major effects worldwide. These  
unique tropical environments harbor a high diversity of corals,  
reef invertebrates, fish and other animals and plants. In most  
taxa, the species diversity of reef-associated organisms is  
poorly understood because many of the species have yet to be  
collected and described. High coral mortality has been associated  
with natural events such as hurricanes, predator outbreaks and  
periods of high temperature, but has also resulted from excess  
nutrients in sewage and from specific pollutants. Reef corals and  
associated organisms are also threatened by the possibility of  
global warming which will result in rising sea levels and periods  
of increased temperature stress, and which may also bring  
increased storm frequency and intensity. Although the recent  
extensive episodes of coral bleaching in the Caribbean and  
eastern Pacific cannot be causally related to global warming at  
this time, the close link between bleaching and temperature  
suggests that global warming will result in severe changes in  
coral assemblages. Major reef destruction has followed outbreaks  
of the predatory seastar Acanthaster planci in the Pacific.  
Although this is considered part of a natural disturbance cycle,  
there are indications that altered land use patterns and  
reduction of predators on this seastar by human activities may  
have increased the severity of outbreaks. Recreational and  
commercial use of reefs has also increased, and has caused  
extensive damage, especially near areas of high population  
density. One of the most obvious and widespread losses to reef  
biota is the reduction in fish populations from intense  
overfishing in most reef areas of the world. Coasts without  
adequately managed reefs have suffered intense overfishing for  
both local and export purposes, to the point where the positive  
effects of fish on those reefs have been compromised. The  
combination of these destructive factors has altered reefs in all  
localities, and many that were once considered protected by  
distance and low population density are now being exploited as  
well. On the positive side, improved understanding of ecological  
processes on reefs combined with concerted conservation efforts  
have managed to protect some extensive areas of reef for the  

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