They found that while there were moderate local increases in seaweed cover over the study period, only four percent of reefs worldwide were dominated by macroalgae that is, more than 50 percent of a reef's surface was covered in seaweed. Researchers also found overall "phase shift severity" decreased in the Caribbean, did not change in the Florida Keys and the Indo-Pacific, and increased slightly on the Great Barrier Reef due to moderate coral loss.
"Overall, our results indicate that there is no general recent trend (i.e., post-1995) toward marcoralgal dominance," the researchers wrote.
"The results from this study question many of the prevailing paradigms that coral reef ecologists have developed over the past two decades," Precht said. "These findings will change the way we view and manage these fragile yet resilient ecosystems."
Said Sweatman: "I hope this study leads to clearer definition of what coral-algal phase shifts are and broadens our perspective on the serious loss of corals in many parts of the world. Australian reefs have been relatively lucky so far, but there is no reason for complacency."
The study team noted that while their analysis suggests the threat posed by macroalgae has been exaggerated, individual case studies such as the degradation of Jamaican reefs have been invaluable warnings of the consequences of subjecting reefs to multiple natural and manmade disturbances.
|Contact: John Bruno|
Ecological Society of America