Recovery of Diadema antillarum reduces macroalgal cover and increases abundance of juvenile corals on a Caribbean reef


The National Academy of Sciences


The transition of many Caribbean reefs from coral to macroalgal dominance has been a prominent issue in coral reef ecology for more than 20 years. Alternative stable state theory predicts that these changes are reversible but, to date, there is little indication of this having occurred. Here we present evidence of the initiation of such a reversal in Jamaica, where shallow reefs at five sites along 8 km of coastline now are characterized by a sea urchin-grazed zone with a mean width of 60 m. In comparison to the seaward algal zone, macroalgae are rare in the urchin zone, where the density of Diadema antillarum is 10 times higher and the density of juvenile corals is up to 11 times higher. These densities are close to those recorded in the late 1970s and early 1980s and are in striking contrast to the decade-long recruitment failure for both Diadema and scleractinians. If these trends continue and expand spatially, reefs throughout the Caribbean may again become dominated by corals and algal turf.

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