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Coral bleaching characterized by the expulsion of symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) is an increasing problem worldwide. Global warming has been implicated as one cause, but the phenomenon cannot be fully comprehended without an understanding of the variability of zooxanthellae populations in field conditions. Results from a 6-year field study are presented, providing evidence of density regulation but also of large variability in the zooxanthellae population with regular episodes of very low densities. These bleaching events are likely to be part of a constant variability in zooxanthellae density caused by environmental fluctuations superimposed on a strong seasonal cycle in abundance.
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