Adaptive responses and local stressor mitigation drive coral resilience in warmer, more acidic oceans

Coral reefs have great biological and socioeconomic value, but are threatened by ocean acidification, climate change and local human impacts. The capacity for corals to adapt or acclimatize to novel environmental conditions is unknown but fundamental to projected reef futures. The coral reefs of Kāne‘ohe Bay, Hawai‘i were devastated by anthropogenic insults from the 1930s to 1970s. These reefs experience naturally reduced pH and elevated temperature relative to many other Hawaiian reefs which are not expected to face similar conditions for decades. Despite catastrophic loss in coral cover owing to human disturbance, these reefs recovered under low pH and high temperature within 20 years after sewage input was diverted. We compare the pH and temperature tolerances of three dominant Hawaiian coral species from within Kāne‘ohe Bay to conspecifics from a nearby control site and show that corals from Kāne‘ohe are far more resistant to acidification and warming. These results show that corals can have different pH and temperature tolerances among habitats and understanding the mechanisms by which coral cover rebounded within two decades under projected future ocean conditions will be critical to management. Together these results indicate that reducing human stressors offers hope for reef resilience and effective conservation over coming decades.

Jury C. P. & Toonen R. J., 2019. Adaptive responses and local stressor mitigation drive coral resilience in warmer, more acidic oceans. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 286 (1902): 20190614. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2019.0614. Article.

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