Can the first few decades of coral colonization give insight to species interactions and ecological complexity? A case study on artificial coral-based structures
A greater understanding of coralbased communities must be achieved in order to maximize reef conservation efforts. While a multitude of studies have analyzed coral reef recovery, resilience of reefs, and artificial reefs versus natural reefs, few have dissected the complex ecological networks of coral-based ecosystems during the first few decades of colonization. The following is a quantitative study of invertebrate and fish communities around a series of offshore mooring blocks in Kralendijk, Bonaire (n=18). These blocks were deployed roughly twenty years ago, are the same size, and are exposed to similar physical conditions. It was hypothesized that there would be positive correlations between coral cover and fish species richness, coral cover and fish species diversity, rugosity and fish species richness, and rugosity and fish species diversity. Visual surveys, photo quadrats, and a slightly modified chain intercept transect method were used to assess fish communities, coral cover, and rugosity, respectively. The results supported the hypotheses with significant positive correlations (p<0.05). Likewise, it was found that fire coral cover displayed significant positive correlation with both rugosity (p=0.005) and fish species diversity (p=0.014), whereas brain coral cover did not show a significant correlation with these two variables. Though these outcomes may have been expected based on the findings of previous studies, the manifestation of such ecology in these relatively young mooring blocks is impressive when compared to the same trends in well-established reefs. While this study constituted only a small window of the intricate field of coral reef ecology, the findings offer manageable insight into the dynamics of young artificial structures.