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Journal of Marine Biology
Volume 2011, Article ID 164127, 8 pages
Review Article

“Coral Dominance”: A Dangerous Ecosystem Misnomer?

Ocean Associates, contracted to NOAA Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, 1125 B Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu, HI 96814, USA

Received 10 June 2010; Revised 4 October 2010; Accepted 19 October 2010

Academic Editor: Robert J. Toonen

Copyright © 2011 Peter S. Vroom. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Over 100 years ago, before threats such as global climate change and ocean acidification were issues engrossing marine scientists, numerous tropical reef biologists began expressing concern that too much emphasis was being placed on coral dominance in reef systems. These researchers believed that the scientific community was beginning to lose sight of the overall mix of calcifying organisms necessary for the healthy function of reef ecosystems and demonstrated that some reefs were naturally coral dominated with corals being the main organisms responsible for reef accretion, yet other healthy reef ecosystems were found to rely almost entirely on calcified algae and foraminifera for calcium carbonate accumulation. Despite these historical cautionary messages, many agencies today have inherited a coral-centric approach to reef management, likely to the detriment of reef ecosystems worldwide. For example, recent research has shown that crustose coralline algae, a group of plants essential for building and cementing reef systems, are in greater danger of exhibiting decreased calcification rates and increased solubility than corals in warmer and more acidic ocean environments. A shift from coral-centric views to broader ecosystem views is imperative in order to protect endangered reef systems worldwide.