Mass mortality following disturbance in Holocene coral reefs from Papua New Guinea

J. M. Pandolfi, A. W. Tudhope, G. Burr, J. Chappell, E. Edinger, M. Frey, R. Steneck, C. Sharma, A. Yeates, M. Jennions, H. Lescinsky, A. Newton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The frequency and intensity of disturbance on living coral reefs have been accelerating for the past few decades, resulting in a changed seascape. What is unclear but vital for management is whether this acceleration is natural or coincident only with recent human impact. We surveyed nine uplifted early to mid-Holocene (11,000-3700 calendar [cal] yr B.P.) fringing and barrier reefs along ∼27 km at the Huon Peninsula, Papua New Guinea. We found evidence for several episodes of coral mass mortality, but frequency was <1 in 1500 yr. The most striking mortality event extends >16 km along the ancient coastline, occurred ca. 9100-9400 cal yr B.P., and is associated with a volcanic ash horizon. Recolonization of the reef surface and resumption of vertical reef accretion was rapid (<100 yr), but the post-disturbance reef communities contrasted with their pre-disturbance counterparts. Assessing the frequency, nature, and long-term ecological consequences of mass-mortality events in fossil coral reefs may provide important insights to guide management of modern reefs in this time of environmental degradation and change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)949-952
Number of pages4
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2006


  • Coral reefs
  • Disturbance
  • Holocene
  • Mass mortality
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Quaternary


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