Abstract

The coral Acropora cervicornis is considered a modern environmental indicator species, vulnerable to anthropogenic stress and rapidly disappearing throughout the Caribbean. Causes for its decline have been attributed to both natural and anthropogenic factors. Physical and geochemical data are used to explore conditions under which this species thrived in early to middle Holocene reef deposits (ca. 9.4–5.4 ka) of the Enriquillo Valley, southwestern Dominican Republic. This study shows that A. cervicornis flourished during a 4000 yr period spanning the Holocene Thermal Maximum, and high-resolution radiocarbon dating reveals continuous growth for at least 2000 yr. Holocene A. cervicornis survived large-scale climate and environmental changes that included high temperatures, variable salinity, hurricanes, and rapid sea-level rise with remarkable resilience. Our data suggest that the recent decline in A. cervicornis is anomalous and likely tied to ecosystem change beyond natural causes.

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