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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2005 Feb 28;360(1454):385-95.

Measuring coral reef decline through meta-analyses.

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  • 1Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK. i.cote@uea.ac.uk


Coral reef ecosystems are in decline worldwide, owing to a variety of anthropogenic and natural causes. One of the most obvious signals of reef degradation is a reduction in live coral cover. Past and current rates of loss of coral are known for many individual reefs; however, until recently, no large-scale estimate was available. In this paper, we show how meta-analysis can be used to integrate existing small-scale estimates of change in coral and macroalgal cover, derived from in situ surveys of reefs, to generate a robust assessment of long-term patterns of large-scale ecological change. Using a large dataset from Caribbean reefs, we examine the possible biases inherent in meta-analytical studies and the sensitivity of the method to patchiness in data availability. Despite the fact that our meta-analysis included studies that used a variety of sampling methods, the regional estimate of change in coral cover we obtained is similar to that generated by a standardized survey programme that was implemented in 1991 in the Caribbean. We argue that for habitat types that are regularly and reasonably well surveyed in the course of ecological or conservation research, meta-analysis offers a cost-effective and rapid method for generating robust estimates of past and current states.

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