The stratigraphic record is a useful tool for understanding the past and present because it preserves geological history in layers. Heterogeneous layers of whole and broken shells in the stratigraphic record are often interpreted as storm debris or storm lags, and it has been proposed that coral debris could also form storm deposits recognizable in the fossil record. Hurricane Mitch passed over Belize during September of 1998. This study, conducted along with an AGRA (Atlantic Gulf Reef Assessment) survey examined the effect of the hurricane on coral life and death assemblages. In an attempt to find a recognizable signature of a storm deposit on a coral reef system and to assess the health of the reefs after a major hurricane, thirteen reefs were studied. Four reefs were located at the north end of Belize, and the other nine were located along a southern section of the barrier reef. The fidelity of the life and death assemblages and the similarities of the species richness values were compared for three different reef environments (fore reef, ridge reef, and patch reef). The fore reef environment was the only one to show broken and damaged coral, but all of the reefs were affected by bleaching and disease. The death assemblages had higher species richness values than the life assemblages, and therefore had low fidelity to the life assemblages. This was a result of under-sampling of the live species, increased mortality from the hurricane, and high amounts of bleaching and coral disease.
Valerie Gamble, ’01 St. Paul, MN
Majors: Biology and Geology
Sponsor: Benjamin Greenstein