[Coral-List] FW: Loss of reef biodiversity - any recent data?

Zoe Richards Zoe.Richards at museum.wa.gov.au
Mon Aug 30 02:38:20 UTC 2021

Hi Peter, 

Thanks for raising this timely and really interesting question - it is one I am particularly interested in with Indo-Pacific corals. 
Its my suspicion that coral biodiversity is quietly slipping away through an ongoing series of local extinction events, but yes as you say, genuine species losses are very hard to detect in dynamic ecosystems like coral reefs. 
You may be interested in a recent study where my colleagues and I examined the spatio-temporal persistence of scleractinian coral species at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef:  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00338-021-02144-4
This location has been subjected to various disturbances over the years, COTS, cyclones, coral bleaching and while a large portion of the species appeared temporally stable based on available records from the last 44 years, I found ~28 species were at risk of local extinction and another ~ 31 were at risk of local range reduction. Interestingly, it was not always the rare species that disappeared, some common species like Acropora aspera and A. abrotanoides were among the missing species. 
I can't answer the question of how far along the path to biodiversity collapse we are, but given corals are among the best studied taxa and we don't know the answer for them, there is good reason to be concerned about the remainder of marine invertebrate biodiversity - much of which remains to be described!!

News article on the paper can be found here: https://theconversation.com/almost-60-coral-species-around-lizard-island-are-missing-and-a-great-barrier-reef-extinction-crisis-could-be-next-163714

All the best,
Zoe Richards

Marine Invertebrate Curator | Department of Aquatic Zoology
Senior Research Fellow | Coral Conservation and Research Group Leader | Curtin University 

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-----Original Message-----
From: Coral-List <coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> On Behalf Of Peter Sale via Coral-List
Sent: Sunday, 29 August 2021 11:19 AM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] Loss of reef biodiversity - any recent data?

Hi coral-listers,
I was recently reading some papers concerning the apparent extinction, across the Florida reef tract of Dendrogyra cylindrus, the pillar coral: Chan et al 2019, Front. Mar. Sci. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00218 ; Jones et al 2021, Scient. Rep. doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-93111-0 ; and Neely et al 2021, Front. Mar. Sci. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2021.656515 .  They reveal, rather convincingly, that Dendrogyra has likely been extirpated throughout Florida by a combination of bleaching and SCTLD between 2015 and 2020.  Chan et al also provide genetic data suggesting the species had been reproductively extinct in Florida (only asexual propagation happening) for 'many' years before that.  Each paper makes clear that the situation may be different elsewhere in the Caribbean.  I summarized what I gleaned from these papers here: https://aus01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.petersalebooks.com%2F%3Fp%3D3165&data=04%7C01%7Czoe.richards%40museum.wa.gov.au%7C068d69d9d4ab4979ec0508d96b042736%7Cc1ae0ae2d5044287b6f47eafd6648d22%7C0%7C0%7C637658487865227773%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=hNGqcHx%2FBtzkNnI3%2BpOG6z0vNWg6TmiiegvC4ulIPp8%3D&reserved=0

The story provided by these papers has led me to wonder about all the rare species on coral reefs around the world.  Reef ecosystems are characterized by having relatively few common species (across taxa, not just corals) and long tails of rare species.  Dendrogyra has been rare in most locations in its range for decades if not much longer, but it is a large and conspicuous species.  When it disappears, that is obvious.  But most rare species are also small, inconspicuous, even cryptic.  Their disappearance would be a lot harder to detect unless one was actively looking for them.  So, just to add to the problems faced by coral reef systems, how far along the path to biodiversity collapse are they?

Serious question.  If someone has done a lot of work on this topic, meaning I should already know the answer, forgive an old fish ecologist.  (And if the work was done on reef fishes, please let me down gently!)

Peter Sale
University of Windsor (Emeritus)
sale at uwindsor.ca<mailto:sale at uwindsor.ca>

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