Species-area relationships in coral communities: Evaluating mechanisms for a commonly observed pattern

B. E. Huntington, D. Lirman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Landscape-scale attributes of patch size, spatial isolation, and topographic complexity are known to influence diversity and abundance in terrestrial and marine systems, but remain collectively untested for reef-building corals. To investigate the relationship between the coral assemblage and seascape variation in reef habitats, we took advantage of the distinct boundaries, spatial configurations, and topographic complexities among artificial reef patches to overcome the difficulties of manipulating natural reefs. Reef size (m2) was found to be the foremost predictor of coral richness in accordance with species-area relationship predictions. Larger reefs were also found to support significantly higher colony densities, enabling us to reject the null hypothesis of random placement (a sampling artifact) in favor of target area predictions that suggest greater rates of immigration on larger reefs. Unlike the pattern previously documented for reef fishes, topographic complexity was not a significant predictor of any coral assemblage response variable, despite the range of complexity values sampled. Lastly, coral colony density was best explained by both increasing reef size and decreasing reef spatial isolation, a pattern found exclusively among brooding species with shorter larval dispersal distances. We conclude that seascape attributes of reef size and spatial configuration within the seascape can influence the species richness and abundance of the coral community at relatively small spatial scales (<1 km). Specifically, we demonstrate how patterns in the coral communities that have naturally established on these manipulated reefs agree with the target area and island biogeography mechanisms to drive species-area relationships in reef-building corals. Based on the patterns documented in artificial reefs, habitat degradation that results in smaller, more isolated natural reefs may compromise coral diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)929-938
Number of pages10
JournalCoral Reefs
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • Diversity
  • Immigration
  • Island biogeography
  • Landscape
  • Reef configuration
  • Target area hypothesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


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