[Coral-List] Sahara dust, hurrincanes, flooding, fire: when is a disturbance not a disturbance?

Felix Martinez Felix.Martinez at noaa.gov
Wed Jul 27 09:56:27 EDT 2005

Dear Listers,

The Sahara dust issue brings to mind a lesson from my short stint as a 
headwater stream ecologist.  Although from our perspective it is easy to 
see flooding as a disturbance, stream communities have evolved with 
flooding and have adapted to withstand or rebound from them.  Similarly, 
coral communities have evolved under the onslaught of hurricanes to 
rebuild between hits and fire brings renewal to temperate forests and 
grassland ecosystems

Sahara dust has been blowing over the tropical America long enough for 
communities to evolve with it.  I remember learning that epiphytes in 
the Amazon/Central American/Caribbean forests grow on substrate 
deposited by Sahara dust storms over tree branches and trunk nooks and 

Caribbean corals have certainly been exposed over millenia to Sahara 
dust.  What they have not evolved with is the ability to respond to the 
combination stressors brought about human activity from the mid-20th 
century on.  Disruption of fish assemblages (i.e., disappearance of 
predators and most grazers) and increased sediment/nutrient loads have 
created conditions in the Caribbean in which coral communities cannot 
rebound from natural stressors (i.e., hurricanes), the likely case for 
most of the elkhorn coral disappearance.  If we don't work to restore 
(and protect) the coral communities as a whole, we will be hard pressed 
to see any resistance/resilience to natural (i.e., unavoidable) stressors.

It is human nature to seek single culprits.  We need to learn to think 
that events in nature do not occur in isolation and act accordingly.


<>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <><
Felix A. Martinez, Ph.D.
NOAA Oceans and Coasts
Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research
National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science
N/SCI2, SSMC4 Rm. 8083 		ph: 301-713-3338 x153
1305 East-West Hwy.  		fax: 301-713-4044		
Silver Spring, MD 20910  	email: felix.martinez at noaa.gov

Note: The content of this message does not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or of NOAA unless otherwise specified.  The information therein is only for the use of the individuals or entity for which it was intended even if addressed incorrectly.  If not the intended recipient, you may not use, copy, disseminate, or distribute the message or its content unless otherwise authorized. 
<>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <>< <><

More information about the Coral-List mailing list