People and ecosystems

Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.


Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution


Responding to a changing world

Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

Coral Reef Studies

From 2005 to 2022, the main node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies was headquartered at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland (Australia)

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Scale, stock-recruitment dynamics and degradation of corals on the GBR


12.00pm, Thursday 19 May 2011

Marine and Tropical Biology Building 1, Room 001 (DB23-001)
Terry Hughes

Terry is Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies since 2005. He received his BA from Trinity College Dublin; and PhD at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, before moving to JCU in 1990. His work in the Caribbean and on the Great Barrier Reef has pioneered the concept of ecological resilience, leading to a deeper understanding of why coral reefs sometimes collapse in response to human impacts. According to ISI Science Citation Index, Professor Hughes is ranked 1st globally for citations to individual researchers in coral reef science.


Several recent studies have documented long-term degradation of the Great Barrier Reef, including a decline in coral cover over the past 50 years. Increased mortality from bleaching, run-off and three major bouts of crown-of-thorns starfish have been blamed as the main drivers of change. While these are clearly important, in this talk, I will explore the role of other demographic processes that lead to long-term loss of coral cover, in particular new evidence that reductions in reproductive stocks of adults leads to recruitment failure. Based on large-scale surveys of settlement, recruitment, reproduction and adult abundances, I will present new data that reveals the spatial scale of coral stock-recruitment relationships. For brooding corals, a decline in adult abundance leads to recruitment failure at the scale of individual reefs, indicating a high level of larval retention on natal reefs. For spawners, even degraded reefs maintain an influx of coral larvae. These results have particular significance for the resilience of coral assemblage structure, and for the future trajectory of coral abundances on the GBR and elsewhere.


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