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Volume 17, Issue 8 p. 445-454
Reviews

Coral reef ecosystem functioning: eight core processes and the role of biodiversity

Simon J Brandl

Corresponding Author

Simon J Brandl

Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Smithsonian Institution, Edgewater, MD

Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada

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Douglas B Rasher

Douglas B Rasher

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, East Boothbay, ME

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Isabelle M Côté

Isabelle M Côté

Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada

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Jordan M Casey

Jordan M Casey

Department of Invertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

PSL Université Paris: EPHE-UPVD-CNRS, USR 3278 CRIOBE, Université de Perpignan, Perpignan, France

Laboratoire d'Excellence “CORAIL”, Perpignan, France

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Emily S Darling

Emily S Darling

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

Marine Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, NY

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Jonathan S Lefcheck

Jonathan S Lefcheck

Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Smithsonian Institution, Edgewater, MD

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, East Boothbay, ME

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J Emmett Duffy

J Emmett Duffy

Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Smithsonian Institution, Edgewater, MD

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First published: 30 July 2019
Citations: 167

Abstract

Coral reefs are in global decline. Reversing this trend is a primary management objective but doing so depends on understanding what keeps reefs in desirable states (ie “functional”). Although there is evidence that coral reefs thrive under certain conditions (eg moderate water temperatures, limited fishing pressure), the dynamic processes that promote ecosystem functioning and its internal drivers (ie community structure) are poorly defined and explored. Specifically, despite decades of research suggesting a positive relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning across biomes, few studies have explored this relationship in coral reef systems. We propose a practical definition of coral reef functioning, centered on eight complementary ecological processes: calcium carbonate production and bioerosion, primary production and herbivory, secondary production and predation, and nutrient uptake and release. Connecting research on species niches, functional diversity of communities, and rates of the eight key processes can provide a novel, quantitative understanding of reef functioning and its dependence on coral reef communities that will chart the transition of coral reefs in the Anthropocene. This will contribute urgently needed guidance for the management of these important ecosystems.