Coral responses to ocean warming and acidification: implications for future distribution of coral reefs in the South China Sea

Highlights

• SST increased at rates of 0.038–0.074 °C/year in recent decade in the SCS.
• pH decreased faster than previous prediction in our study sites.
• Some reef corals were not able to survive at 33 °C in our culture experiments.
• Subtropical waters with temperature of <30 °C may serve as refugia for corals.

Abstract

The annual sea surface temperature increased at a rate of 0.038 to 0.074 °C/year in recent decade, and pH decreased at a rate of 0.012–0.014/year in two coastal waters of the South China Sea. Therefore, a culture experiment was conducted to study the effects of acidification and warming on coral calcification rates. The calcification of three coral species were significantly reduced during the exposure to elevated CO2, while other three coral species were not significantly affected. The reef coral Pocillopora damicornis was resistant to high CO2, but was not able to survive during the exposure to 33 °C in our culture experiments. Our findings suggested that some corals might not survive in tropical areas if coral could not adapt to warming rapidly, and subtropical coastal waters with temperature of <30 °C will serve as refugia for the corals resistant to high CO2 at the end of this century.

Yuan X., Guo Y., Cai W.-J., Huang H., Zhou W. & Liu S., 2019. Coral responses to ocean warming and acidification: implications for future distribution of coral reefs in the South China Sea. Marine Pollution Bulletin 138: 241-248. Article.

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