Understanding coral reefs as complex systems: degradation and prospects for recovery


  • Raymond T. Dizon The Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines, Philippines
  • Helen T. Yap The Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines, Philippines




complexity, complex system, resilience, robustness, self-organization, scale


The present century is witness to unprecedented levels of coral reef degradation worldwide. Current understanding based on traditional ideas is unlikely to capture adequately the dynamics of phenomena accompanying this trend. In this regard, the ideas of complexity are reviewed. Some applications to coral reefs as complex systems have already been discussed in the literature although further progress is warranted as the search for new and more effective management tools continues, and the direction towards more holistic, integrative and large scale approaches gains wider acceptance. We distinguish between the concepts of robustness and resilience in the face of disturbance, highlight the various mechanisms that foster these stability properties and provide some coral reef examples. We identify some of the driving forces behind succession that are critical for community assembly and possible reef recovery. Finally, we consider how self-organization arises out of apparently random and chaotic processes and interactions to exhibit certain regularities and patterns especially when moving up on the scale of space and/or time.


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Author Biography

Raymond T. Dizon, The Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines, Philippines

Institut de Ciencia i Tecnologia Ambientals, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193 Bellaterra, Barcelona, Spain.


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How to Cite

Dizon RT, Yap HT. Understanding coral reefs as complex systems: degradation and prospects for recovery. scimar [Internet]. 2006Jun.30 [cited 2022Aug.10];70(2):219-26. Available from: https://scientiamarina.revistas.csic.es/index.php/scientiamarina/article/view/149