[Coral-List] Evidence that ocean warming has caused most Caribbean coral loss

Dennis Hubbard dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Thu May 4 11:00:27 EDT 2017

Hi John (et al):

I am certainly not arguing that we do not need to carefully evaluate
specific factors with respect to each other in an attempt to quantify the
relative importance of specific processes as well as their interactions.
Quite the opposite.... my concern is that I sense too many posts that
characterize the primacy of one set of factors above others - and get
rather personal in  the process. Many discussion of the "science" also
ignore the rich historical and paleo-ecological records that, while lacking
the minute details that only bio/ecology can provide, take advantage of the
longer view that cannot be appreciated by even the most elegantly designed
ecological experiment set up on a small spatial and temporal scale. So, to
clarify my position:

The answer to the underlying issue in this back-and-forth is, "all of the
above". If we are going to effectively address this problem, we need to
spend less time advocating for (or against) a particular position and more
time thinking about how ALL the the myriad factors combine to control what
we have been seeing - even if the latter is difficult to constrain in a
particular experiment. To paraphrase our president, "this is a lot harder
than we thought." The specifics will be different for different reefs.
Also, even multi-disciplinary studies that start with the presumption that
factor X is the most important and carefully examine multiple factors
within that overarching theme, start with preconceptions that are not......
"objective science" as I suspect we all perceive it.

Many of the more lengthy discussions have eloquently described the
situation relative to the writers' perspectives in a way that makes this an
either/or argument.... and ignores a lot of excellent data that lay outside
the expertise of folks who are taking issue with one another, in some
instances either ignoring or misunderstanding (based solely on what I read,
as this is all I have to go on) important information that lay outside the
limits of a particular back-and forth.

We have some of the most dedicated and thoughtful folks that I know of
participating in this discussion and I think that we stand to gain a LOT
more by figuring out what we have in common and openly sharing information
that some may not be aware of to create a mechanism to move beyond
advocacy and toward realizing that the complexities of this topic
(including implementation).



On Wed, May 3, 2017 at 5:26 PM, Bruno, John <jbruno at unc.edu> wrote:

> Dear Dennis,
> I respectfully disagree. For ecologists, determining the relative role of
> different factors in driving patterns is largely the point of our field.
> It has nothing to do with feeling "our subdiscipline is the most
> important”.  Good ecology means testing multiple hypotheses that explain an
> observation, retesting those hypothesis over and over, etc. Its not about
> ego - this is fundamentally what "trying to understand the nature of the
> system" IS.
> Identifying the causal drivers of population declines is fundamental to
> species conservation. This concept goes way back to Graeme Caughley, and
> forms the basis of the “declining population paradigm” in conservation
> science. It isn’t necessarily “all tied together”.. Every plausible factor
> that could possibly influence a pattern doesn’t necessarily have a
> measurable role. Most species are weak interactors and lots of processes
> aren’t all that common or important. In the case of coral decline, there
> are literally dozens of possible explanations and since conservation
> dollars are finite and we can’t tackle every problem, its critical to
> identify the main causes. Doing so is not a “waste of bandwidth”. Moreover,
> it’s common (on the coral-list) to assume the interaction of two important
> stressors is synergistic; that’s often true at the individual-level, but at
> the community level they are just as likely to be antagonistic, i.e., they
> dampen each others effects. Figuring stuff like this out is important to
> effectively managing reefs.
> (As an aside, my view is that there is certainly evidence of local
> impacts, like pollution. The challenge is to figure *where* that’s the
> case (we do VERY little monitoring of water quality on reefs) and also how
> to address it (its a tough problem). Just screaming that all the loss is
> due to pollution and that nutrient pollution is widespread in the ocean is
> not supported by the science. We should follow the lead of local management
> in places like the Florida Keys, Bermuda, etc where they’ve (largely)
> tackled nutrients, anchor damage, fishing, etc.)
> Sincerely,
> John
> On May 3, 2017, at 2:55 PM, Dennis Hubbard <Dennis.Hubbard at oberlin.edu>
> wrote:
> Hi Elizabeth:
> None of this helps answer the question going around of what is the
> "primary" driver of reef decline. If anyone hasn't read it, I highly
> recommend Jeremy Jackson's "Reefs Before Columbus" article in Coral Reefs
> awhile back.... it is sobering, as is John Pandolfi's follow-up discussions
> of how early anthropogenic impacts might have kicked in.
> So, for me, as a reef scientist, it really doesn't make a great deal of
> sense to argue over what is worse just so we can feel "our subdiscipline is
> the most important". It's all tied in together and, while we take up
> bandwidth with this, we could be spending that time trying to understand
> the nature of the system better.
> As a reef GEO-scientist, when I think back to the "good old days, I'm
> thinking early Holocene.
> Best,
> Dennis

Dennis Hubbard
Chair, Dept of Geology-Oberlin College Oberlin OH 44074
(440) 775-8346

* "When you get on the wrong train.... every stop is the wrong stop"*
 Benjamin Stein: "*Ludes, A Ballad of the Drug and the Dream*"

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