Bikini Atoll coral biodiversity resilience revealed; five decades after nuclear testing
Five decades after a series of nuclear tests began, we provide evidence that 70% of the Bikini Atoll zooxanthellate coral assemblage is resilient to large-scale anthropogenic disturbance. Species composition in 2002 was assessed and compared to that seen prior to nuclear testing. A total of 183 scleractinian coral species was recorded, compared to 126 species recorded in the previous study (excluding synonomies, 148 including synonomies). We found that 42 coral species may be locally extinct at Bikini. Fourteen of these losses may be pseudo-losses due to inconsistent taxonomy between the two studies or insufficient sampling in the second study, however 28 species appear to represent genuine losses. Of these losses, 16 species are obligate lagoonal specialists and 12 have wider habitat compatibility. Twelve species are recorded from Bikini for the first time. We suggest the highly diverse Rongelap Atoll to the east of Bikini may have contributed larval propagules to facilitate the partial resilience of coral biodiversity in the absence of additional anthropogenic threats.