There is a stereotype that algae-dominated reefs are not healthy reefs. However, recent studies by investigators for the Coral Reef Ecosystems Division (CRED) indicate that the opposite is the case. They collected data from many long-term monitoring sites and found evidence that algae can dominate in a healthy reef and discovered that algae have a greater role on the reefs than coral. The CRED team found that different reefs support different organisms and that, in reality, many unimpacted, healthy reef systems are not coral-dominated but algae dominated. There is evidence of Caribbean reefs that had been negatively impacted by humans and we know that algae do take over unused substrate, so more research needs to be done to fully understand the relationship between algae and the coral reef. Therefore, next steps for this research program include better indices for ecosystem health and continued cataloging and quantifying of species.
-by Josie Streiffert
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Vroom, P., Braun, C. 2010. Benthic composition of a healthy subtropical reef: baseline species-level cover, with an emphasis on algae, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. PLoS ONE. 5:1-9 (e9733).
Vroom, P., Page, K., Kenyon, J., Brainard, R. 2006. Algae-dominated reefs. American Scientist. 94:430-437.