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Diversity 2012, 4(1), 94-104;

Responses of Cryptofaunal Species Richness and Trophic Potential to Coral Reef Habitat Degradation

Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Cswy, Miami, FL 33149, USA
Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratories (AOML), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 4301 Rickenbacker Cswy, Miami, FL 33149, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 17 November 2011 / Revised: 7 February 2012 / Accepted: 10 February 2012 / Published: 15 February 2012
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Coral Reef Diversity: Climate Change and Coral Reef Degradation)
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Coral reefs are declining worldwide as a result of many anthropogenic disturbances. This trend is alarming because coral reefs are hotspots of marine biodiversity and considered the ‘rainforests of the sea. As in the rainforest, much of the diversity on a coral reef is cryptic, remaining hidden among the cracks and crevices of structural taxa. Although the cryptofauna make up the majority of a reef’s metazoan biodiversity, we know little about their basic ecology or how these communities respond to reef degradation. Emerging research shows that the species richness of the motile cryptofauna is higher among dead (framework) vs. live coral substrates and, surprisingly, increases within successively more eroded reef framework structures, ultimately reaching a maximum in dead coral rubble. Consequently, the paradigm that abundant live coral is the apex of reef diversity needs to be clarified. This provides guarded optimism amidst alarming reports of declines in live coral cover and the impending doom of coral reefs, as motile cryptic biodiversity should persist independent of live coral cover. Granted, the maintenance of this high species richness is contingent on the presence of reef rubble, which will eventually be lost due to physical, chemical, and biological erosion if not replenished by live coral calcification and mortality. The trophic potential of a reef, as inferred from the abundance of cryptic organisms, is highest on live coral. Among dead framework substrates, however, the density of cryptofauna reaches a peak at intermediate levels of degradation. In summary, the response of the motile cryptofauna, and thus a large fraction of the reef’s biodiversity, to reef degradation is more complex and nuanced than currently thought; such that species richness may be less sensitive than overall trophic function. View Full-Text
Keywords: biodiversity; reef framework structure; rainforest’s of the sea; rubble biodiversity; reef framework structure; rainforest’s of the sea; rubble

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Enochs, I.C.; Manzello, D.P. Responses of Cryptofaunal Species Richness and Trophic Potential to Coral Reef Habitat Degradation. Diversity 2012, 4, 94-104.

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