3D HABITAT COMPLEXITY OF CORAL REEFS IN THE NORTHWESTERN HAWAIIAN ISLANDS IS DRIVEN BY CORAL ASSEMBLAGE STRUCTURE
Keywords: Coral Reefs, Coral Ecology, Photogrammetry, Structure-from-Motion, 3D Reconstruction, Habitat Complexity, Benthic Community Structure
Abstract. Corals act as ecosystem engineers by secreting structurally complex calcium carbonate skeletons on the benthic substrate that provide habitat for a diverse array of associated reef organisms. Communities of living corals create large and dynamic benthic structures that directly affect ecological parameters such as habitat provisioning and light availability, thus influencing overall ecosystem function. Despite the important role 3D structural complexity plays in ecosystem biodiversity and productivity, the field of coral ecology has lacked accessibility to practical technology capable of quantifying 3D characteristics of underwater habitats. Advancements in the field of computer vision has led to Structure-from-Motion (SfM) photogrammetry, which provides a simple and cost-effective method for creating high-resolution and spatially accurate 3D reconstructions of natural environments. Integrating SfM approaches into coral reef research and monitoring has provided useful insight into the relationship between 3D habitat complexity and ecological processes. In this study, we examined the relationships among 2D estimates of live coral cover and several metrics of 3D habitat structural complexity among eleven long-term monitoring sites at French Frigate Shoals. Our findings show that coral assemblage structure acts as a significant driver of 3D structural complexity of coral reef habitats at this atoll. This study highlights the importance of diverse and abundant coral assemblages in supporting structurally complex coral reef habitats and provides a framework for future investigations into the ecological role of various coral morphotypes.