Caribbean Reef Development Was Independent of Coral Diversity over 28 Million Years

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Science  14 Mar 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5869, pp. 1521-1523
DOI: 10.1126/science.1152197

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The relationship between natural variations in coral species diversity, reef development, and ecosystem function on coral reefs is poorly understood. Recent coral diversity varies 10-fold among geographic regions, but rates of reef growth are broadly similar, suggesting that diversity is unimportant for reef development. Differences in diversity may reflect regional differences in long-term biotic history in addition to environmental conditions. Using a combination of new and published fossil and stratigraphic data, we compared changes in coral diversity and reef development within the tropical western Atlantic over the past 28 million years. Reef development was unrelated to coral diversity, and the largest reef tracts formed after extinction had reduced diversity by 50%. High diversity is thus not essential for the growth and persistence of coral reefs.

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