Quantifying Climatological Ranges and Anomalies for Pacific Coral Reef Ecosystems

TitleQuantifying Climatological Ranges and Anomalies for Pacific Coral Reef Ecosystems
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsGove JM, Williams GJ, McManus MA, Heron SF, Sandin SA, Vetter OJ, Foley DG
JournalPlos One
Date Published2013/04
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number1932-6203
Accession NumberWOS:000317908700069
Keywordsbase-lines; climate-change; environmental-stress; florida-keys; indian-ocean; intermediate disturbance; internal waves; islands; susceptibility; temperature

Coral reef ecosystems are exposed to a range of environmental forcings that vary on daily to decadal time scales and across spatial scales spanning from reefs to archipelagos. Environmental variability is a major determinant of reef ecosystem structure and function, including coral reef extent and growth rates, and the abundance, diversity, and morphology of reef organisms. Proper characterization of environmental forcings on coral reef ecosystems is critical if we are to understand the dynamics and implications of abiotic-biotic interactions on reef ecosystems. This study combines high-resolution bathymetric information with remotely sensed sea surface temperature, chlorophyll-a and irradiance data, and modeled wave data to quantify environmental forcings on coral reefs. We present a methodological approach to develop spatially constrained, island-and atoll-scale metrics that quantify climatological range limits and anomalous environmental forcings across U. S. Pacific coral reef ecosystems. Our results indicate considerable spatial heterogeneity in climatological ranges and anomalies across 41 islands and atolls, with emergent spatial patterns specific to each environmental forcing. For example, wave energy was greatest at northern latitudes and generally decreased with latitude. In contrast, chlorophyll-a was greatest at reef ecosystems proximate to the equator and northern-most locations, showing little synchrony with latitude. In addition, we find that the reef ecosystems with the highest chlorophyll-a concentrations; Jarvis, Howland, Baker, Palmyra and Kingman are each uninhabited and are characterized by high hard coral cover and large numbers of predatory fishes. Finally, we find that scaling environmental data to the spatial footprint of individual islands and atolls is more likely to capture local environmental forcings, as chlorophyll-a concentrations decreased at relatively short distances (>7 km) from 85% of our study locations. These metrics will help identify reef ecosystems most exposed to environmental stress as well as systems that may be more resistant or resilient to future climate change.