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Predicting coral community recovery using multi-species population dynamics models.

  • Author(s): Kayal, Mohsen;
  • Lenihan, Hunter S;
  • Brooks, Andrew J;
  • Holbrook, Sally J;
  • Schmitt, Russell J;
  • Kendall, Bruce E
  • et al.

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Predicting whether, how, and to what degree communities recover from disturbance remain major challenges in ecology. To predict recovery of coral communities we applied field survey data of early recovery dynamics to a multi-species integral projection model that captured key demographic processes driving coral population trajectories, notably density-dependent larval recruitment. After testing model predictions against field observations, we updated the model to generate projections of future coral communities. Our results indicated that communities distributed across an island landscape followed different recovery trajectories but would reassemble to pre-disturbed levels of coral abundance, composition, and size, thus demonstrating persistence in the provision of reef habitat and other ecosystem services. Our study indicates that coral community dynamics are predictable when accounting for the interplay between species life-history, environmental conditions, and density-dependence. We provide a quantitative framework for evaluating the ecological processes underlying community trajectory and characteristics important to ecosystem functioning.

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