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Allen KA, Bruno JF, Chong F, Clancy D, McClanahan TR, Spencer M, Zychaluk K. (2017) Among-site variability in the stochastic dynamics of East African coral reefs. PeerJ Preprints5:e2687v1https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.2687v1
Coral reefs are dynamic systems whose composition is highly influenced by unpredictable biotic and abiotic factors. Understanding the spatial scale at which long-term predictions of reef composition can be made will be crucial for guiding conservation efforts. Using a 22-year time series of benthic composition data from 20 reefs on the Kenyan and Tanzanian coast, we developed Bayesian vector autoregressive state-space models for reef dynamics, incorporating among-site variability, and quantified their long-term behaviour. We estimated that if there were no among-site variability, the total long-term variability would be approximately one third of its current value. Thus, our results showed that among-site variability contributes more to long-term variability in reef composition than does temporal variability. Individual sites were more predictable than previously thought, and predictions based on current snapshots are informative about long-term properties. Our approach allowed us to identify a subset of possible climate refugia sites with high conservation value, where the long-term probability of coral cover \(\leq\) 0.1 was very low. Analytical results show that this probability is most strongly influenced by among-site variability and by interactions among benthic components within sites. These findings suggest that conservation initiatives might be successful at the site scale as well as the regional scale.
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