The CARICOMP monitoring network gathered standardized data from 52 seagrass sampling stations at 22 sites (mostly Thalassia testudinum-dominated beds in reef systems) across the Wider Caribbean twice a year over the period 1993 to 2007 (and in some cases up to 2012). Wide variations in community total biomass (285 to .2000 g dry m22) and annual foliar productivity of the dominant seagrass T. testudinum (,200 and .2000 g dry m22) were found among sites. Solar-cycle related intra-annual variations in T. testudinum leaf productivity were detected at latitudes . 16uN. Hurricanes had little to no long-term effects on these well-developed seagrass communities, except for 1 station, where the vegetation was lost by burial below ,1 m sand. At two sites (5 stations), the seagrass beds collapsed due to excessive grazing by turtles or sea- urchins (the latter in combination with human impact and storms). The low-cost methods of this regional-scale monitoring program were sufficient to detect long-term shifts in the communities, and fifteen (43%) out of 35 long-term monitoring stations (at 17 sites) showed trends in seagrass communities consistent with expected changes under environmental deterioration.
The conservation status of 845 zooxanthellate reef-building coral species was assessed by using International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List Criteria. Of the 704 species that could be assigned conservation status, 32.8% are in categories with elevated risk of extinction. Declines in abundance are associated with bleaching and diseases driven by elevated sea surface temperatures, with extinction risk further exacerbated by local-scale anthropogenic disturbances. The proportion of corals threatened with extinction has increased dramatically in recent decades and exceeds that of most terrestrial groups. The Caribbean has the largest proportion of corals in high extinction risk categories, whereas the Coral Triangle (western Pacific) has the highest proportion of species in all categories of elevated extinction risk. Our results emphasize the widespread plight of coral reefs and the urgent need to enact conservation measures.
ABSTRACT: Region-wide assessments of coral cover typically rely on meta-analyses of small- scale ecological studies which have combined different coral reef habitats. This is particularly problematic on forereefs where at least 2 habitats can be found; coral-based bioherms and colo- nized hardgrounds (hereafter Orbicella reefs and gorgonian plains), each with very different structure and scleractinian coral cover. Here, we quantify the degree to which the failure to differ- entiate forereef zones dominated by framework building corals, mainly Orbicella spp. (hereafter Orbicella reefs) from gorgonian plains can lead to biased assessments of coral cover. We also pro- vide a baseline of an extensive sample of Caribbean coral reefs in 2010−2012 for the 2 habitats within the forereef. Mean scleractinian coral cover (±SE) at Orbicella reefs was 24 ± 1.3%, more than double the coral cover found on the gorgonian plains (10 ± 1.6%). The difference in coral cover between habitats within the same geomorphological zone is consistent with those calculated from an independent dataset for the basin (Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment). Further- more, the average coral cover calculated for Caribbean Orbicella reefs was more than double the values previously reported for entire reefs in the region a decade ago (10%), which integrated data from different habitats, depths, time periods and surveyors. Differentiating between forereef habitats has provided a meaningful baseline of coral state, which allows for realistic targets for management in the Caribbean basin.
Coral assemblages on Caribbean reefs have largely been considered to be biogeographically homogeneous at a regional scale. We reassess this in three taxa (corals, sponges and octocorals) using three community attributes with increasing levels of information (species richness, composition and relative abundance) across hierarchical spatial scales, and identify the key environmental drivers associated with this variation.
We assessed reefs along 546 transects positioned within the same forereef habitat (Orbicella reef) in 11 countries, using a consistent methodology and surveyors. Spatial variability in richness, composition and relative abundance was assessed at four hierarchical spatial scales – transects (metres), sites (kilometres), areas (tens of kilometres) and regions (hundreds of kilometres) – using permutational multivariate analysis of variance (PERMANOVA). The relevance of contemporary environmental factors in explaining the observed spatial patterns was also assessed using PERMANOVA.
Consistent with previous studies, species richness of coral assemblages, commonly the focus of biogeographical studies, showed little variance at large spatial scales. In contrast, species composition and relative abundance showed significant variability at regional scales. Coral, sponge and octocoral assemblages each varied independently across spatial scales. Rugosity and wave exposure were key drivers of the composition and relative abundance of coral and octocoral assemblages.
Caribbean reef assemblages exhibit considerable biogeographical variability at broad spatial scales (hundreds of kilometres) when more responsive community attributes were used. However, the high degree of variability within sites (kilometres) highlights the relevance of local ecological drivers such as rugosity and wave exposure in structuring assemblages. The high levels of within-site variability that is not explained by environmental variables may suggest a previously unrealized contribution of anthropogenic disturbance operating at local scales throughout the region.
This paper provides an analysis of the distribution patterns of marine biodiversity and summarizes the major activities of the Census of Marine Life program in the Caribbean region. The coastal Caribbean region is a large marine ecosystem (LME) characterized by coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses, but including other environments, such as sandy beaches and rocky shores. These tropical ecosystems incorporate a high diversity of associated flora and fauna, and the nations that border the Caribbean collectively encompass a major global marine biodiversity hot spot. We analyze the state of knowledge of marine biodiversity based on the geographic distribution of georeferenced species records and regional taxonomic lists. A total of 12,046 marine species are reported in this paper for the Caribbean region. These include representatives from 31 animal phyla, two plant phyla, one group of Chromista, and three groups of Protoctista. Sampling effort has been greatest in shallow, nearshore waters, where there is relatively good coverage of species records; offshore and deep environments have been less studied. Additionally, we found that the currently accepted classification of marine ecoregions of the Caribbean did not apply for the benthic distributions of five relatively well known taxonomic groups. Coastal species richness tends to concentrate along the Antillean arc (Cuba to the southernmost Antilles) and the northern coast of South America (Venezuela – Colombia), while no pattern can be observed in the deep sea with the available data. Several factors make it impossible to determine the extent to which these distribution patterns accurately reflect the true situation for marine biodiversity in general:
- highly localized concentrations of collecting effort and a lack of collecting in many areas and ecosystems,
- high variability among collecting methods,
- limited taxonomic expertise for many groups, and
- differing levels of activity in the study of different taxa.