Biogeographical disparity in the functional diversity and redundancy of corals

Mike McWilliam*, Mia O. Hoogenboom, Andrew H. Baird, Chao Yang Kuo, Joshua S. Madin, Terry P. Hughes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Corals are major contributors to a range of key ecosystem functions on tropical reefs, including calcification, photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, and the provision of habitat structure. The abundance of corals is declining at multiple scales, and the species composition of assemblages is responding to escalating human pressures, including anthropogenic global warming. An urgent challenge is to understand the functional consequences of these shifts in abundance and composition in different biogeographical contexts. While global patterns of coral species richness are well known, the biogeography of coral functions in provinces and domains with high and low redundancy is poorly understood. Here, we quantify the functional traits of all currently recognized zooxanthellate coral species (n = 821) in both the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic domains to examine the relationships between species richness and the diversity and redundancy of functional trait space. We find that trait diversity is remarkably conserved (>75% of the global total) along latitudinal and longitudinal gradients in species richness, falling away only in species-poor provinces (n < 200), such as the Persian Gulf (52% of the global total), Hawaii (37%), the Caribbean (26%), and the East- Pacific (20%), where redundancy is also diminished. In the more species-poor provinces, large and ecologically important areas of trait space are empty, or occupied by just a few, highly distinctive species. These striking biogeographical differences in redundancy could affect the resilience of critical reef functions and highlight the vulnerability of relatively depauperate, peripheral locations, which are often a low priority for targeted conservation efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3084-3089
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2018


  • species richness
  • functional diversity
  • functional redundancy
  • biogeography
  • resilience

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