Sampling state and process variables on coral reefs
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Contemporary coral reefs are forced to survive through and recover from disturbances at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. Understanding disturbances in the context of ecological processes may lead to accurate predictive models of population trajectories. Most coral-reef studies and monitoring programs examine state variables, which include the percentage coverage of major benthic organisms, but few studies examine the key ecological processes that drive the state variables. Here we outline a sampling strategy that captures both state and process variables, at a spatial scale of tens of kilometers. Specifically, we are interested in (1) examining spatial and temporal patterns in coral population size-frequency distributions, (2) determining major population processes, including rates of recruitment and mortality, and (3) examining relationships between processes and state variables. Our effective sampling units are randomly selected 75 × 25 m stations, spaced approximately 250–500 m apart, representing a 103 m spatial scale. Stations are nested within sites, spaced approximately 2 km apart, representing a 104 m spatial scale. Three randomly selected 16 m2 quadrats placed in each station and marked for relocation are used to assess processes across time, while random belt-transects, re-randomized at each sampling event, are used to sample state variables. Both quadrats and belt-transects are effectively sub-samples from which we will derive estimates of means for each station at each sampling event. This nested sampling strategy allows us to determine critical stages in populations, examine population performance, and compare processes through disturbance events and across regions.
KeywordsCoral reef Climate change Populations Sampling Processes
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