In 1983–1984, the sea urchin suffered mass mortality throughout the Caribbean, Florida, and Bermuda. The demise of this herbivore contributed to a phase shift of Caribbean reefs from coral-dominated to alga-dominated communities. A compilation of published data of population densities shows that there has been moderate recovery since 1983, with the highest rates on islands of the eastern Caribbean. On the average the current population densities are approximately 12% of those before the die-off, apparently because of recruitment limitation, but the exact factors that are constraining the recovery are unclear. Scattered cohorts in some localities and aggregation of settled individuals in shallow water have created zones of higher herbivory in which juvenile coral recruitment, survivorship, and growth are higher than they are in alga-dominated areas. Unlike other stressors on Caribbean coral reefs, recent changes in populations progress toward aiding the recovery of coral cover.


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