Monitored and modeled coral population dynamics and the refuge concept

B. Riegl, S. J. Purkis, J. Keck, G. P. Rowlands

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


With large-scale impacts on coral reefs due to global climatic change projected to increase dramatically, and suitability of many areas for reef growth projected to decrease, the question arises whether particular settings might serve as refugia that can maintain higher coral populations than surrounding areas. We examine this hypothesis on a small, local scale in Honduras, western Caribbean. Dense coral thickets containing high numbers of the endangered coral Acropora cervicornis occur on offshore banks while being rare on the fringing reef on nearby Roatán. Geomorphological setting and community dynamics were evaluated and monitored from 1996 to 2005. A model of population dynamics was developed to test assumptions derived from monitoring. Coral cover on the fringing reef declined in 1998 from >30% to <20%, but the banks maintained areas of very dense coral cover (32% cover by A. cervicornis on the banks but <1% on the fringing reef). Bathymetry from satellite images showed the banks to be well-separated from the fringing reef, making asexual connectivity between banks and fringing reef impossible but protecting the banks from direct land-runoff during storms. Exposure to SE tradewinds also causes good flushing. Only four A. cervicornis recruits were recorded on the fringing reef over 6 years. Runoff associated with hurricanes caused greater mortality than did bleaching in 1998 and 2005 on the fringing reef, but not on the banks. Since 1870, our analysis suggests that corals on the banks may have been favored during 17 runoff events associated with tropical depressions and storms and potentially also during five bleaching events, but this is more uncertain. Our model suggests that under this disturbance regime, the banks will indeed maintain higher coral populations than the fringing reef and supports the assumption that offshore banks could serve as refugia with the capacity to subsidize depleted mainland populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-38
Number of pages15
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Acropora cervicornis
  • Caribbean
  • Coral reef
  • Population model
  • Refugia
  • Resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Pollution


Dive into the research topics of 'Monitored and modeled coral population dynamics and the refuge concept'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this