Different resiliencies in coral communities over ecological and geological time scales in American Samoa

C Birkeland, Alison Lesley Green, A Lawrence, G Coward, M Vaeoso, D Fenner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


In 1917, Alfred Mayor surveyed a 270 m transect on a reef flat on American Samoa. Eleven surveys were conducted on the transect from 1917 to 2019. The coral community on the reef crest was resilient over the century, occasionally being seriously damaged but always recovering rapidly. In contrast, the originally most dense coral community on the reef flat has been steadily deteriorating throughout the century. Resilience of coral communities in regions of high wave energy on the reef crests was associated with the important binding function of the crustose coralline alga (CCA) Porolithon onkodes. Successful coral recruits were found on CCA 94% of the time, yet living coral cover correlated negatively with CCA cover as they became alternative winners in competition. Mayor drilled a core from the transect on the surface to the basalt base of the reef 48 m below. Communities on Aua reef were dominated by scleractinians through the Holocene, while cores on another transect 2 km away showed the reef was occupied by alcyonaceans of the genus Sinularia, which built the massive reef with spiculite to the basalt base 37 m below. Despite periods of sea levels rising 9 to 15 times the rate of reef accretion, the reefs never drowned. The consistency of scleractinians on Aua reef and Sinularia on Utulei Reef 2 km away during the Holocene was because the shape of the bay allowed more water motion on Aua reef. After 10700 yr of reef building by octocorals, coastal construction terminated this spiculite-reef development.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-68
Number of pages14
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
StatePublished - Sep 2 2021

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2022-12-27
Acknowledgements: We thank the Government of American Samoa, its Coral Reef Advisory Group, and its Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources for inviting us to conduct the surveys over the past 25 years and handling our logistics. We are grateful to the Carnegie Institution of
Washington in Washington, DC, for allowing us to use Alfred Mayor’s illustrations. We thank Mark Nakamura for rawing our diagrams and Cheryl Squair for advising us on CCA. Shreya Yadav and Eric Birkeland provided instruction or assistance with data management. We are very appreciative of the interest and concern of the people of Aua Village for their reef and for their hospitality in letting us resurvey the transect 10 times over the past 47 years.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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