Time-series data of marine ecosystems is becoming an integral part of testing ecological theory and understanding present ecological effects of environmental change. Historical approaches in marine ecology can provide: novels ways of testing ecological theory; information on what was natural in the sea to understand the range in variability in ecological states and processes; glimpses into the response of marine ecosystems to past environmental change, especially climate change; and new understanding of conservation strategies. Ecological studies on limited spatial and temporal scales document intense variation in coral cover, but community structure appears to be persistent over centennial to millennial time scales. Such persistence is evidence against neutral theory dynamics where demographic stochasticity predicts more open community membership. The persistence of similar structure and its recent shift to alternative states means we know what should be conserved, though goals may not translate into targets given political, economic, and other competing interests. The fossil record also provides a rich source of information on response of marine ecosystems to both past climate change and past and ongoing human impacts. Historical studies thus inform ecological theory, impacts from environmental change, and conservation practice.
John Pandolfi is a Chief Investigator and Program Leader in the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, and is a Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, and Centre for Marine Science, University of Queensland, Australia. He has broad research interests in marine palaeoecology, with emphasis on the effects of anthropogenic impacts and climate change on the recent past history of modern coral reefs. He has published over 170 scientific articles with over 18,000 scientific citations. John currently serves on the national Australian Coral Reef Bleaching Taskforce and is Associate Editor for Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B and Global Ecology and Biogeography.