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Ecological consequences of major hydrodynamic disturbances on coral reefs

Naturevolume 444pages477480 (2006) | Download Citation



A recent tsunami1,2 and an apparent increase in the frequency of severe tropical storms3,4,5 underscore the need to understand and predict the ecological consequences of major hydrodynamic disturbances6. Reef corals provide the habitat structure that sustains the high biodiversity of tropical reefs7, and thus provide the foundation for the ecosystem goods and services that are critical to many tropical societies6,8. Here we integrate predictions from oceanographic models9 with engineering theory, to predict the dislodgement of benthic reef corals during hydrodynamic disturbances. This generalizes earlier work10,11, by incorporating colonies of any shape and by explicitly examining the effects of hydrodynamic gradients on coral assemblage structure. A field test shows that this model accurately predicts changes in the mechanical vulnerability of coral colonies, and thus their size and shape, with distance from the reef crest. This work provides a general framework for understanding and predicting the effects of hydrodynamic disturbances on coral reef communities; such disturbances have a major role in determining species zonation12,13 and coexistence14 on coral reefs, and are critical determinants of how coral assemblages will respond to changes in the frequency and intensity of tropical storms associated with a changing climate3,4,5,15.

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We thank P. Ridd, C. Berndt and especially T. Hughes for helpful discussions; and A. Baird, M. Berumen A. Dell, M. Dornelas, C. Dudgeon, E. Madin, M. Pratchett and the staff of the Lizard Island Research Station for help in the field. This work was supported by James Cook University and the Australian Research Council.

Author information


  1. School of Marine and Tropical Biology, and ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, 4811, Australia

    • Joshua S. Madin
    •  & Sean R. Connolly
  2. National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, California, 93101, USA

    • Joshua S. Madin


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Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joshua S. Madin.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Notes

    This file contains four sections: 1) Model assumptions, 2) Increase in CSF due to colony growth, 3) Estimation of colony dislodgement rates, and 4) Supplementary references. Section 3 refers to a Supplementary Figure. (DOC 157 kb)

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