In January 2010, reefs in the Upper and Middle Florida Keys experienced prolonged exposure to extremely cold water temperatures, below lethal thresholds for many reef organisms including corals. We examined post-disturbance juvenile assemblages of stony corals and octocorals on eight patch reefs, four of which were categorized as high impact and four as low impact, based on declines in stony-coral cover following disturbance. We established permanent quadrats to conduct field surveys in spring and fall of 2012 and 2013. Overall, juvenile abundances of both stony corals and octocorals were greater on low-impact sites, suggesting that those sites had higher recruitment and juvenile survival than high-impact sites. Juvenile assemblages also showed a regional pattern, with more stony corals on Middle Keys sites and more octocorals on Upper Keys sites. The stony-coral juvenile assemblage was dominated by Siderastrea siderea (46%) and Porites astreoides (19%), whereas previously abundant species such as Orbicella annularis were nearly absent (<3%). Octocoral juveniles were dominated by Antillogorgia spp. (25%), Gorgonia spp. (21%), Eunicea spp. (19%) and Erythropodium caribaeorum (14%). Overall, post-disturbance juvenile assemblages displayed a wide range of octocoral genera, but only a few select stony-coral species, which exhibited either opportunistic or hardy life-history characteristics.
Part of the book: Corals in a Changing World