[Coral-List] reef resilience, hypothesis testing, and the need to know one's animals

Peter Sale sale at uwindsor.ca
Sun May 22 22:47:28 EDT 2016

Hi Listers,
A couple of weeks ago, Joe Pawlik drew attention to a new paper of his in BioScience.  I read it, read a little bit further, and was prompted to put some thoughts on my blog, mainly about how we have to know our study organisms or ecosystems well if we are to be able to generate, and then test hypotheses about them.  I think Pawlik's paper, and the 2012 one by Roff and Mumby make clear that we still have numerous competing hypotheses to account for the failures of reef resilience following disturbances that lead to loss of coral cover, and far more variation from place to place than would ever be apparent when reading accounts of what I call the herbivore-mediated hypothesis of coral dominance.

I fear, rightly or wrongly, that our ability to generate and test hypotheses about coral reefs is getting weaker, at the very time we need it to be getting stronger, because of the general down-grading of field time in undergraduate and graduate education, plus an appalling erosion of basic biological knowledge because that is considered old-fashioned and unnecessary.  (I also admit I learned some new things (for me) about sponges after reading the Pawlik paper!)

Anyhow, my thoughts are here: http://www.petersalebooks.com/?p=2237
I hope this does not annoy, because I do not want to have to wear a bullet-proof vest under my aloha shirt in Honolulu next month.  I'll be very interested to talk to people about this topic, and also about your views on the fate of coral reefs over the next few decades during ICRS.

Note that my blog post includes the statement that it is precisely because coral reef ecology is relatively strong as ecology goes that I feel free to demand it get stronger.  As I conclude at the end, careful, detailed monitoring of the gradual loss of coral cover across the reefs of the world, without any success in building understanding of why and how, would simply be a time-consuming effort to document the demise of one part of Earth's biodiversity, a description of a part of the sixth extinction.  Not of any great value once the extinction is over!

Peter Sale

Distinguished University Professor (Emeritus)
University of Windsor

e-mail:                  sale at uwindsor.ca<mailto:sale at uwindsor.ca>
web:                      www.petersalebooks.com<http://www.petersalebooks.com/>
Twitter:                @PeterSale3

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