Leichter, J.J., A.L., Alldredge, G. Bernardi, A.J. Brooks, C.A. Carlson, R,C. Carpenter, P.J. Edmunds, M.R. Fewings, K.M. Hanson, J.L. Hench, S.J. Holbrook, C.E. Nelson, R.J. Schmitt, R.J. Toonan, L Washburn and A.S.J. Wyatt. 2013. Biological and physical interactions on a tropical island coral reef: Transport and retention processes on Moorea, French Polynesia. Oceanography 26:52-63.
Haas, A.F., C.E. Nelson, L. Wegley-Kelly, C.A. Carlson, F. Rohwer, J.J. Leichter, A. Wyatt and J.E. Smith. 2011. Effects of coral reef benthic primary producers on dissolved organic carbon and microbial activity. PLoS One 6(11):e27973.
Plant growth in most ecosystems forms the base or "primary" component of the food web. The amount and type of plant growth in an ecosystem helps to determine the amount and kind of animals (or "secondary" productivity) that can survive there.
The entire ecosystem relies on the recycling of organic matter (and the nutrients it contains), including dead plants, animals, and other organisms. Decomposition of organic matter and its movement through the ecosystem is an important component of the food web.
Nitrogen, phosphorus and other mineral nutrients are cycled through the ecosystem by way of decay and disturbances such as fire and flood. In excessive quantities nitrogen and other nutrients can have far-reaching and harmful effects on the environment.
A series of process-oriented field studies motivated by our initial focused questions have been initiated to explore gaps in our understanding of physical and biological processes and events that affect structure, function and dynamics of the reef ecosystem of Moorea; additional integration is achieved by focusing on common model systems.
A comprehensive set of spatially explicit time series measurements was designed and implemented (during Year 1) to describe decadal trends in the reef ecosystem and forcing functions on a landscape scale.
A fundamental goal of the MCR is to advance understanding that enables accurate forecasts of the behavior of coral reef ecosystems to environmental forcing. To this end, we seek to understand the mechanistic basis of change in coral reefs by determining how they are influenced by the press drivers to which they are increasingly being subjected, especially those associated with an increasing degree of ocean acidification.
In general there are two contrasting attributes of an ecosystem with respect to external drivers: 1) resistance, the amount of external forcing a system can absorb without a qualitative change and 2) resilience, the tendency of a system to return to its previous state after a perturbation. Resilience in particular is a major MCR research focus because Moorea recently was subjected to a pulse disturbance, an outbreak of the crown-of-thorns seastar, that killed most living coral on the fore reef.
Many of the features defining coral reefs are products of the interaction of biological and physical processes acting over multiple spatio-temporal and functional scales. We are exploring the scale-dependence of physical processes around the island of Moorea, focusing initially on waves and water fluxes and temperature characteristics at several scales.
MCR has a diverse range of projects that focus on the physiology and population dynamics of corals and organisms with which they interact, on ecosystem processes on and near coral reefs, and on the physical environment. We are developing a unified body of theory and a suite of models that can support individual projects and (more importantly) contribute to synthesis.
Even upon casual inspection, it is clear that a tropical coral reef is more than simply the sum of the parts. Our goal is to understand how abiotic and biotic forcing functions affect the functional biology of corals, and to incorporate these effects into a model with the capacity to integrate the understanding of reef corals across spatial, temporal and functional scales.
Coral reefs have exceptionally high levels of biodiversity that generate complex webs of interacting species. Our ability to forecast population and community dynamics requires greater understanding of the manner by which individuals and species interact within coral reef ecosystems.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Moorea Coral Reef Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreement #OCE-0417412, #OCE-1026851, and #OCE-1236905. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.