Shifts in dominance of benthic communities along a gradient of water temperature and turbidity in tropical coastal ecosystems

Ludi Aji, Diede Maas, Agustin Capriati, Awaludinnoer Ahmad, Christiaan de Leeuw, Leontine Becking

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Tropical coastal benthic communities will change in species composition and relative dominance due to global (e.g., increasing water temperature) and local (e.g., increasing terrestrial influence due to land-based activity) stressors. This study aimed to gain insight into possible trajectories of coastal benthic assemblages in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, by studying coral reefs at varying distances from human activities and marine lakes with high turbidity in three temperature categories (<31 °C, 31–32 °C, and >32 °C). The benthic community diversity and relative coverage of major benthic groups were quantified via replicate photo transects. The composition of benthic assemblages varied significantly among the reef and marine lake habitats. The marine lakes <31 °C contained hard coral, crustose coralline algae (CCA), and turf algae with coverages similar to those found in the coral reefs (17.4–18.8% hard coral, 3.5–26.3% CCA, and 15–15.5% turf algae, respectively), while the higher temperature marine lakes (31–32 °C and >32 °C) did not harbor hard coral or CCA. Benthic composition in the reefs was significantly influenced by geographic distance among sites but not by human activity or depth. Benthic composition in the marine lakes appeared to be structured by temperature, salinity, and degree of connection to the adjacent sea. Our results suggest that beyond a certain temperature (>31 °C), benthic communities shift away from coral dominance, but new outcomes of assemblages can be highly distinct, with a possible varied dominance of macroalgae, benthic cyanobacterial mats, or filter feeders such as bivalves and tubeworms. This study illustrates the possible use of marine lake model systems to gain insight into shifts in the benthic community structure of tropical coastal ecosystems if hard corals are no longer dominant.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere17132
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2024


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