Coral reefs provide critical services to coastal communities, and these services rely on ecosystem functions threatened by stressors. By summarizing the threats to the functioning of reefs from fishing, climate change, and decreasing water quality, we highlight that these stressors have multiple, conflicting effects on functionally similar groups of species and their interactions, and that the overall effects are often uncertain because of a lack of data or variability among taxa. The direct effects of stressors on links among functional groups, such as predator-prey interactions, are particularly uncertain. Using qualitative modeling, we demonstrate that this uncertainty of stressor impacts on functional groups (whether they are positive, negative, or neutral) can have significant effects on models of ecosystem stability, and reducing uncertainty is vital for understanding changes to reef functioning. This review also provides guidance for future models of reef functioning, which should include interactions among functional groups and the cumulative effect of stressors.


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