Waves of annihilation have beaten coral reefs down to a fraction of what they were 40 years ago, and what’s left may be facing creeping death: The effective extinction of many coral species may be weakening reef systems thus siphoning life out of the corals that remain.
In the shallows off Fiji’s Pacific shores, two marine researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology for a new study assembled groups of corals that were all of the same species, i.e. groups without species diversity. When Cody Clements snorkeled down for the first time to check on them, his eyes instantly told him what his data would later reveal.
“One of the species had entire plots that got wiped out, and they were overgrown with algae,” Clements said. “Rows of corals had tissue that was brown—that was dead tissue. Other tissue had turned white and was in the process of dying.”
36 ghastly plots
Clements, a postdoctoral researcher and the study’s first author, also assembled groups of corals with a mixture of species, i.e. biodiverse groups, for comparison. In total, there were 36 single-species plots, or monocultures.
Photo: NPS/Wikimedia Commons
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