Coral identity underpins architectural complexity on Caribbean reefs

Lorenzo Alvarez-Filip, Nicholas K. Dulvy, Isabelle M. Côté, Andrew R. Watkinson, Jennifer A. Gill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Citations (Scopus)


The architectural complexity of ecosystems can greatly influence their capacity to support biodiversity and deliver ecosystem services. Understanding the components underlying this complexity can aid the development of effective strategies for ecosystem conservation. Caribbean coral reefs support and protect millions of livelihoods, but recent anthropogenic change is shifting communities toward reefs dominated by stress-resistant coral species, which are often less architecturally complex. With the regionwide decline in reef fish abundance, it is becoming increasingly important to understand changes in coral reef community structure and function.We quantify the influence of coral composition, diversity, and morpho-functional traits on the architectural complexity of reefs across 91 sites at Cozumel, Mexico. Although reef architectural complexity increases with coral cover and species richness, it is highest on sites that are low in taxonomic evenness and dominated by morpho-functionally important, reef-building coral genera, particularly Montastraea. Sites with similar coral community composition also tend to occur on reefs with very similar architectural complexity, suggesting that reef structure tends to be determined by the same key species across sites. Our findings provide support for prioritizing and protecting particular reef types, especially those dominated by key reef-building corals, in order to enhance reef complexity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2223-2231
Number of pages9
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011

Cite this