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The transformation of Caribbean coral communities since humans
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  • Katie Cramer,
  • Mary Donovan,
  • Jeremy Jackson,
  • Benjamin Greenstein,
  • Chelsea Korpanty,
  • Geoffrey Cook,
  • John Pandolfi
Katie Cramer
Arizona State University
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Mary Donovan
University of California Santa Barbara
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Jeremy Jackson
American Museum of Natural History
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Benjamin Greenstein
Roger Williams University
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Chelsea Korpanty
MARUM
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Geoffrey Cook
New England College
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John Pandolfi
The University of Queensland
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Abstract

The mass die-off of Caribbean corals has transformed many of this region’s reefs to macroalgal-dominated habitats since systematic monitoring began in the 1970s. Although attributed to a combination of local and global human stressors, the lack of long-term data on Caribbean reef coral communities has prevented a clear understanding of the causes and consequences of coral declines. We integrated paleoecological, historical, and modern survey data to track the prevalence of major coral species and life history groups throughout the Caribbean from the pre-human period to present. The regional loss of Acropora corals beginning by the 1960s from local human disturbances resulted in increases in the prevalence of formerly subdominant stress-tolerant and weedy scleractinian corals and the competitive hydrozoan Millepora beginning in the 1970s and 1980s. These transformations have resulted in the homogenization of coral communities within individual countries. However, increases in stress-tolerant and weedy corals have slowed or reversed since the 1980s and 1990s in tandem with intensified coral bleaching. These patterns reveal the long history of increasingly stressful environmental conditions on Caribbean reefs that began with widespread local human disturbances and have recently culminated in the combined effects of local and global change.

Peer review status:UNDER REVIEW

22 Dec 2020Submitted to Ecology and Evolution
23 Dec 2020Assigned to Editor
23 Dec 2020Submission Checks Completed
12 Jan 2021Reviewer(s) Assigned