Long-term dynamics of the brown macroalga Lobophora variegata on deep reefs in Curaçao

Lobophora variegata occurs in the eulittoral zone and in deep water on coral reefs in Curaçao. An analysis of the long-term (1979–2006) changes in the vertical distribution of the macroalga in permanent quadrats indicated a significant increase in cover of the deepwater community. In 1998, Lobophora covered 1 and 5% of the quadrats at 20 and 30 m, respectively. By 2006, these values had risen to 25 and 18%, precipitating a shift in abundance of corals and macroalgae at both depths. This increase coincided with losses in coral cover, possibly linked to bleaching, disease and storm-related mortality in deep water plating Agaricia corals. In contrast, macroalgae remained relatively rare (<6% cover) on shallower (10 m) and deeper (40 m) reefs despite declines in coral cover also occurring at these depths, illustrating the depth-dependent dynamics of coral reefs. Several hypotheses are suggested to explain these changes.

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