On the Challenges of Identifying Benthic Dominance on Anthropocene Coral Reefs

Sterling B. Tebbett, Samantha K. Crisp, Richard D. Evans, Christopher J. Fulton, Albert Pessarrodona, Thomas Wernberg, Shaun K. Wilson, David R. Bellwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Web of Science)


The concept of dominance is frequently used to describe changes in rapidly reconfiguring ecosystems, but the definition of dominance can vary widely among studies. Using coral reefs as a model, we use extensive benthic composition data to explore how variability in applying dominance concepts can shape perceptions. We reveal that coral dominance is sensitive to the exclusion of key algal groups and the categorization of other benthic groups, with ramifications for detecting an ecosystem phase shift. For example, ignoring algal turf inflates the dominance of hard and soft corals in the benthic habitats underpinning reef ecosystems. We need a consensus on how dominance concepts are applied so that we can build a more comprehensive understanding of ecosystem shifts across a broad range of aquatic and terrestrial settings. For reefs, we highlight the benefits of comprehensive and inclusive surveys for evaluating and managing the altered ecosystem states that are emerging in the Anthropocene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-228
Number of pages9
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023


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