The decline of coral reefs has been broadly attributed to human stressors being too strong and pervasive, whereas biological processes that may render coral reefs fragile have been sparsely considered. Here we review several ecological factors that can limit the ability of coral reefs to withstand disturbance. These include: (1) Many species lack the adaptive capacity to cope with the unprecedented disturbances they currently face; (2) human disturbances impact vulnerable life history stages, reducing reproductive output and the supply of recruits essential for recovery; (3) reefs can be vulnerable to the loss of few species, as niche specialization or temporal and spatial segregation makes each species unique (i.e., narrow ecological redundancy); in addition, many foundation species have similar sensitivity to disturbances, suggesting that entire functions can be lost to single disturbances; and (4) feedback loops and extinction vortices may stabilize degraded states or accelerate collapses even if stressors are removed. This review suggests that the degradation of coral reefs is due to not only the severity of human stressors but also the “fragility” of coral reefs. As such, appropriate governance is essential to manage stressors while being inclusive of ecological process and human uses across transnational scales. This is a considerable but necessary upgrade in current management if the integrity, and delivery of goods and services, of coral reefs is to be preserved.
Research news | 2018-07-10
The World in 2050 initiative launches new report outlining synergies and benefits that render the goals achievable
Educational news | 2018-07-02
LEAP our leadership programme designed for changemakers that want to lead social-ecological transformations to sustainability. Application deadline is 5 August 2018.
Research news | 2018-06-27
Overfishing, fractured international relationships and political conflicts loom as fish migrate more unpredictably because of climate change. Here is how to deal with it
Research news | 2018-06-26
Profit-maximizing approaches are most likely to produce outcomes that harm people or the environment. But it depends on the circumstances whether a sustainable or a safe approach is most suitable, new study argues
General news | 2018-06-20
Will lead a redesign of the organisational structure at the centre
Research news | 2018-06-20
New book chapter looks into the economic, cultural and ecological reasons why some people leave the fisheries and aquaculture sector, and what could be done to reverse the trend