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e11608 (1-19)


Ocean acidification (OA) is negatively affecting calcification in a wide variety of marine organisms. These effects are acute for many tropical scleractinian corals under short-term experimental conditions, but it is unclear how these effects interact with ecological processes, such as competition for space, to impact coral communities over multiple years. This study sought to test the use of individual-based models (IBMs) as a tool to scale up the effects of OA recorded in short-term studies to community-scale impacts, combining data from field surveys and mesocosm experiments to parameterize an IBM of coral community recovery on the fore reef of Moorea, French Polynesia. Focusing on the dominant coral genera from the fore reef, Pocillopora, Acropora, Montipora and Porites, model efficacy first was evaluated through the comparison of simulated and empirical dynamics from 2010-2016, when the reef was recovering from sequential acute disturbances (a crown-of-thorns seastar outbreak followed by a cyclone) that reduced coral cover to ~0% by 2010. The model then was used to evaluate how the effects of OA (1,100-1,200 µatm pCO2) on coral growth and competition among corals affected recovery rates (as assessed by changes in % cover y-1) of each coral population between 2010-2016. The model indicated that recovery rates for the fore reef community was halved by OA over 7 years, with cover increasing at 11% y-1 under ambient conditions and 4.8% y-1 under OA conditions. However, when OA was implemented to affect coral growth and not competition among corals, coral community recovery increased to 7.2% y-1, highlighting mechanisms other than growth suppression (i.e., competition), through which OA can impact recovery. Our study reveals the potential for IBMs to assess the impacts of OA on coral communities at temporal and spatial scales beyond the capabilities of experimental studies, but this potential will not be realized unless empirical analyses address a wider variety of response variables representing ecological, physiological and functional domains.


© 2021 Evensen et al.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, reproduction and adaptation in any medium and for any purpose provided that it is properly attributed. For attribution, the original author(s), title, publication source (PeerJ) and either DOI or URL of the article must be cited.

Data Availability

Article states: "The following information was supplied regarding data availability:

The code of the simulation model is available at GitHub:

The model was parameterized using data from cited, published sources and from datasets that are available at: Moorea Coral Reef LTER and P. Edmunds. 2020. MCR LTER: Coral Reef: Long-term Population and Community Dynamics: Corals, ongoing since 2005 ver 38. Environmental Data Initiative. DOI 10.6073/pasta/10ee808a046cb63c0b8e3bc3c9799806(accessed 2021-05-12).

Carpenter, R of Moorea Coral Reef LTER. 2020. MCR LTER: Coral Reef: Long-term Population and Community Dynamics: Benthic Algae and Other Community Components, ongoing since 2005. knb-lter-mcr.8.32 DOI 10.6073/pasta/0bf200e9e0f099de69826f57b18ff3da

Evensen, Nicolas R; Edmunds, Peter J (2016): Interactive effects of ocean acidification and neighboring corals on the growth of Pocillopora verrucosa . PANGAEA, DOI 10.1594/PANGAEA.867268, Supplement to: Evensen, NR; Edmunds, PJ (2016): Interactive effects of ocean acidification and neighboring corals on the growth of Pocillopora verrucosa. Marine Biology, 163(7):148 DOI 10.1007/s00227-016-2921-z."

Original Publication Citation

Evensen, N. R., Bozec, Y. M., Edmunds, P. J., & Mumby, P. J. (2021). Scaling the effects of ocean acidification on coral growth and coral-coral competition on coral community recovery. PeerJ, 9, 1-19, Article e11608.


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