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Coral reefs' decline pre-date climate change decline from climate change

Tree oyster frons attached to staghorn coral

Tree oyster Dendrostrea frons attached to staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis. These two specis were the dominant bivalve and coral, respectively, on reefs in Bocas del Toro, Panama, until they began to decline at least 50 years ago, in conjunction with large-scale land clearing. These declines occurred at least decades before the coral disease and bleaching events that are widely cited as the main cause of Caribbean coral reef degradation today.

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The decline of Caribbean coral reefs has been linked to the recent effects of human-induced climate change. However, in 2012, research led by scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, suggests that damage to coral reefs from land clearing and overfishing pre-dates damage caused by anthropogenic climate change by at least decades.

"This study is the first to quantitatively show that the cumulative effects of deforestation and possibly overfishing were degrading Caribbean coral and molluscan communities long before climate change impacts began to really devastate reefs," said Scripps alumna Katie Cramer, who led the research team.

[This research is from Cramer's dissertation, which was supported by a National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) grant, from 2004-2006.]

Read more about this research in the Science Daily news story Declines in Caribbean coral reefs pre-date damage resulting from climate change. (Date image taken: March 2012; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Dec. 27, 2017)

Credit: Jill Leonard-PIngel, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
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