Variation in water quality can directly affect the composition of benthic assemblages on coral reefs. Yet, few studies have directly quantified nutrient and suspended particulate matter (SPM) to examine their potential impacts on benthic community structure, especially around high oceanic islands. We assessed the spatio-temporal variation of nutrients and SPM across six sites in American Samoa over a 12-month period and used exploratory path analysis to relate dissolved inorganic nutrients, land use, and natural and anthropogenic drivers to benthic assemblages on adjacent shallow reefs. Multivariate analyses showed clear gradients in nutrient concentrations, sediment accumulation and composition, and benthic structure across watersheds. Instream nutrients and land uses positively influenced reef flat nutrient concentrations, while benthic assemblages were best predicted by wave exposure, runoff, stream phosphate and dissolved inorganic nitrogen loads. Identifying locality-specific drivers of water quality and benthic condition can support targeted management in American Samoa and in other high islands.
Keywords: Coral reefs; High islands; Land use; Nutrients; Ridge-to-reef; Sedimentation; Suspended particulate matter; Water quality.
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