Response of Coral Assemblages to the Interaction between Natural Temperature Variation and Rare Warm-Water Events

T. R. McClanahan*, J. Maina

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Citations (Scopus)


We examined changes in coral assemblages in four back-reef locations across the warm 1998 El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event based on annually collected line-transect data from 3 years before and after this event. The physical locations of the reefs differed such that there was a 120%-275% warm-season range in the SDs of seawater temperatures but only minor differences in mean temperatures, based on 2 non-ENSO years. We tested the predictions that (a) rare warm-water events would produce fewer changes in eurythermal than stenothermal coral assemblages; and (b) after the disturbance, the stenothermal assemblages would more closely resemble the eurythermal ones. The 1998 event produced fewer changes in coral cover and community similarity among the assemblages in the reefs with high variation in temperature than in those with low variation in temperature. Despite the initially lower taxonomic richness in the eurythermal assemblage, there was an additional loss of taxonomic richness in the high and none in the stenothermal reefs. There was some evidence for taxonomic convergence, of the stenothermal towards the eurythermal reefs and a general loss of some of the branching taxa, such as branching Porités, Pavana, and Stylophora, and a relative increase in massive Porités and Favia. There was, however, moderate site specificity that did not produce true convergence. The eurythermal assemblages maintained the basic community structure but lost taxonomic richness, whereas the opposite was true for the stenothermal assemblages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)551-563
Number of pages13
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Bleaching
  • Coral community structure
  • Diversity
  • El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)
  • Global climate change
  • Resilience
  • Stability
  • Stress


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