Scientists from UC Santa Barbara have found that the coral skeletons left behind in the wake of devasting coral bleaching events influence the reefs going forward.
The scientists found the skeletons act as a sanctuary for algae, which then out-compete and push out slow-growing corals. These events then lead to reefs that are more algae- and seaweed-dominated than coral-rich as they were before.
The research is the work of doctoral student Kai Kopecky, who was studying reefs on Moorea, French Polynesia. Commenting on the work, Kopecky said:
“Just the fact that those skeletons are left on the reef results in these fundamentally different patterns of recovery. Think of prescribed fires or the thinning of dead trees in forests so that the system is more resilient to future disturbances. The effect really depends on what the nature of that structure is. Material density, strength and spatial layout all influence reef dynamics. Those aspects need to be taken into consideration before you go out and just start jackhammering the reef.”
While Holly Moeller, the study’s senior author and assistant professor of ecology, evolution, and marine biology, stated:
“Coral is literally laying down rock, while the algae are mostly just fast-growing, soft, leafy material. Kai’s study is a classic example of the value of mathematical models in ecology. That’s just not an experiment that you can do realistically. But if you have a model, and you trust the way you set that model up because you’ve done other experiments, then you can make these projections decades into the future.”
You can find the original research here.