Coral growth with thermal stress and ocean acidification: lessons from the eastern tropical Pacific

The rapid growth of scleractinian corals is responsible for the persistence of coral reefs through time. Coral growth rates have declined over the past 30 years in the western Pacific, Indian, and North Atlantic Oceans. The spatial scale of this decline has led researchers to suggest that a global phenomenon like ocean acidification may be responsible. A multi-species inventory of coral growth from Pacific Panamá confirms that declines have occurred in some, but not all species. Linear extension declined significantly in the most important reef builder of the eastern tropical Pacific, Pocillopora damicornis, by nearly one-third from 1974 to 2006. The rate of decline in skeletal extension for P. damicornis from Pacific Panamá (0.9% year−1) was nearly identical to massive Porites in the Indo-Pacific over the past 20–30 years (0.89–1.23% year−1). The branching pocilloporid corals have shown an increased tolerance to recurrent thermal stress events in Panamá, but appear to be susceptible to acidification. In contrast, the massive pavonid corals have shown less tolerance to thermal stress, but may be less sensitive to acidification. These differing sensitivities will be a fundamental determinant of eastern tropical Pacific coral reef community structure with accelerating climate change that has implications for the future of reef communities worldwide.

Manzello, D. P., 2010. Coral growth with thermal stress and ocean acidification: lessons from the eastern tropical Pacific. Coral Reefs 29(3): 749-758. Article (subscription required).


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