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From Long-Term Data to Understanding: Toward a Predictive Ecology
2015 LTER ASM Estes Park, CO - August 30 - September 2, 2015

The Moorea Coral Reef (MCR) Long Term Ecological Research Site

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Poster Number: 
Presenter/Primary Author: 
Russell Schmitt
Sally J. Holbrook
Peter J. Edmunds
Robert C. Carpenter

The Moorea Coral Reef (MCR) LTER site, established in 2004, explores community and ecosystem effects of pulsed perturbations and slowly changing environmental drivers on coral reefs, ecologically and economically important ecosystems that are at high risk from local and global stressors.  The site is the coral reef complex surrounding the island of Moorea, French Polynesia.  The core issue being addressed centers on ecological resilience,  and site science goals include: (a) measuring community dynamics, ecosystem processes and the underlying physical and chemical drivers,  (b) understanding the processes and attributes that affect the capacity of a coral reef to absorb perturbations and remain or reassemble to a coral-dominated community without switching to an alternative state (e.g., seaweeds), and (c) examining how slowly changing drivers related to Global Climate Change (GCC) and Ocean Acidification (OA) will affect coral reef structure and function in the future.  Accordingly, the MCR research program is organized into two themes corresponding to different time horizons.  Research Theme 1 (Resilience of Contemporary Reefs) focuses on factors that promote or inhibit the return of a perturbed reef community to a coral-dominated state under current levels of GCC and OA stressors.  Massive disturbances to the fore reef community of Moorea in 2007-10 provided an unparalleled opportunity to identify key processes that are responsible for the remarkable resilience of this coral habitat.  These primarily were a marked biomass response of key herbivorous fishes that prevented seaweeds from dominating reefs where disturbances killed almost all live coral, and rapid recolonization of the disturbed reef by sexually produced coral recruits that most likely were produced by adults in the lagoon habitats of Moorea.  Research Theme 2 (Structure and Function of Reefs in the Future) addresses the longer, multi-decadal time horizon and seeks insight into how forecasted changes in GCC- and OA-related drivers may alter the structure of the benthic community, together with the consequences of those changes to ecosystem processes.  Results to date indicate that different types of corals responded very differently to forecasted increases in temperature and declines in pH, suggesting there will be long-term ‘winners and losers’ among contemporary corals.  Our integrated research program includes question-driven time series measurements, long term field experiments, shorter-term field and laboratory experiments and measurements, and modeling and synthesis activities to integrate and generalize the results.  Additional goals of the MCR site include enhancing our information management system to more fully meet the needs of the LTER network and the broader scientific community, and sustaining an effective outreach program.